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Theater Tue Jul 16 2013

The Casuals: Exploring Life in the Atomic Era

Some things about The Casuals might make you uncomfortable--nuclear testing, for instance. Government agencies that hide the truth (and insist you don't ask questions). Stories that may be lies or truth. A mother who tells her son how his father died a hero. An uncle who tells his nephew's wife how his brother really died.

The Casuals, set in 1955 Nevada, is a new play presented by Jackalope Theatre Company. The script is by Chance Bone and Andrew Burden Swanson, with direction by Jonathan Berry.

Several stories are entwined in this two-hour drama. Richard "Rich" Hughes (Ed Dzialo), a veteran and former military radio host, deals with an unexpected visit from his nephew Tom (Morgan Maher), who stops with his new wife, Jessica (Ellie Reed) while on their honeymoon road trip. Rich also has a warm connection with a widow, Lucille (Somer Benson) and her 12-year-old son. Lucille's late husband Les (Brad Smith) has a mysterious connection with Rich's past.

TheCasuals-GB.jpg
Sam Kurzydlo, Ellie Reed, Morgan Maher & Ed Dzialo; photo by Alex Hand.

Dennis, (Rich's brother and Tom's father), died in the war, leaving Rich to raise Tom. The family story is that Dennis died a hero and saved the lives of his fellow soldiers, but Tom is intensely uncomfortable with any mention of his father. Rich keeps old tapes, a reel-to-reel recorder and other memorabilia, including Dennis' uniform, in his attic.

We see Rich in his post-war job interviewing candidates for a secret government program. He has a script to follow and is told not to deviate from it. Les, the first interviewee, has health problems, but he says he can't talk about them and Rich is not supposed to take the questioning any further. We learn later that Les' son Tim has a serious illness, too. Did his father die a hero, as his mother says, or was he part of an atomic research program testing reactions of already sick participants? In the '50s, we trusted our government to always do the right thing for its citizens; today, we've lost that naïveté about our government, but we still trust our loved ones to tell us the truth.

The threat of nuclear disaster hangs over the play. In 1955, we didn't know we should be afraid. "Let's go watch the test this afternoon," says Rich, and everyone goes to a viewing site to wait for the powerful explosion and brilliant flash of light, all protected by goggles. We know that the young woman is pregnant, yet we trust the government carrying out the test. "What happens to the ash?" Tom asks. "Oh, the heavy stuff disperses into the clouds and blows away," Rich replies.

Some things about the play itself are a little mysterious. Time settings are ambiguous and are not defined in the playbill. The significance of the play's title is never suggested. What does "The Casuals" mean? Usually when a play has a symbolic title, a hint of meaning will be mentioned in dialogue.

The acting is strong throughout the play; however, while Berry's directing is smooth, unfortunately, it can't overcome some of the bumpy spots in the script itself.

~*~

The Casuals runs Thursdays through Sundays until July 28 at DCASE Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph St.; performance times vary. Tickets are $10-$15 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-340-2543.

 
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Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

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