New Play, 'Bombed,' Powerfully Echoes Today's Race and War Events With Surprising History

One ingredient of good theatre is that it can transport you back in history, and make it feel like the present day....well almost.  Colin Greer's new play "Bombed,"  is an intense, surprising, and moving portrayal of an injured soul, a military man fighting for his integrity. The play connects events of 60 years ago with some of the political turmoil of today. "Bombed,"  which had a recent run at the Stella Adler Studio for Acting takes place in the early '50s. It is a tale, roughly rooted in historical truth --  the story of an Air Force Major, who was part of the team of pilots who participated in the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, at the tail end of World War II.

As a result of this experience Major Claude Eatherly, who is for many a national hero, experiences his return to civilian life very far from feeling any sense of heroism. In fact Eatherly, played with much skill and intensity by Graham Halstead, is wracked with remorse, and refuses to pack away his powerful feelings of responsibility. The uncompromising strength  of his feelings  leads him to some unexpected  behaviors, including robbing grocery stores naked, and sending the proceeds to orphanages where the survivors of the bombing live, as a modest act of contrition. 

Needless to say, Eatherly's  behavior is not what American society expects of its war heroes. So not surprisingly Eatherely finds himself  in the mental ward in a military hospital where most of the play takes place. The first two thirds of the play is dominated by an emotional tug of war  between the Army Psychiatrist, played insidiously by Jarret Kerr, and the Major. In the beginning, the shrink says the right things. But very soon you get the feeling that the good Dr. has no ability or desire to empathize with his patient. Instead, he insists on changing Eatherly, trying to make him adjust to his hero status, as a reflection of  the doctors own strong feelings of patriotism and knowing what is right. 

Needless to say, despite increasing pressure on him, Eatherly doesn't budge. As a result, his psychiatric care continues to escalate.  Major Eatherly's emotional issues are made more complex because of Eatherly's wife, who learns that there would be a movie made of Eatherly's story, with the wife playing herself -- her chance at fame and recognition that she so desperately wants. Furthermore, in an amusing aside, Bob Hope shows up in the play as the person who wants to get the movie made -- which incidentally will star Audie Murphy as Eatherly. But the Major sticks to his moral guns, sending the wife, played with compelling reckless emotion by Adriana Spizuoco, over the edge, as we see her in dangerous play with a knife in what became  in later decades known as 'cutting,"  a tactic some, mostly young women, use to inflict self-pain and degradation. 

The claustrophobic setting in "Bomb's" mental hospital echo some of the feelings in the famed Ken Kesey novel and film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The audience is engulfed in  a constant state of tension and volatility as the edge of violence is always present. The cast, directed adroitly by Steven White, does an amazing job of quickly and masterfully changing the scenes many times in a kind of manic ballet, that adds to the tensions. 

In the last third of the play, a charismatic and articulate  black minister, played perfectly by Carvens Lessaint, enters to give pastoral guidance to Eatherly and comes to dominate the rest of the drama. The minister, echoes the current plight of black people, from the vantage point  of Jim Crow, and the emerging civil rights moment (Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court decision was 1954 ) The minister is able to connect with Eatherly in a profound way, showing him that he is not alone in his feelings of oppression. And that seems liberating to Eatherly. It is at this point that the historical arc is laid out in the contact of social movements. 

The plays principals are in discussions to take "Bombed" to the next level. The interwoven political themes of the play  are likely to reverberate to audiences in regional theaters and on university campuses, which is one obvious path for the play to travel.  

It is quite appropriate that Greer debuted his play to the Adler theatre complex -- a home of  dramatic exploration and experimentation with a focus on what it means to be a human being, both as actor, and in interaction with society.  "Bombed" moves at a rapid pace, and offers complex "unsafe" characters with no easy  to digest ending. Meanwhile the play offers  a compelling arc of the social tensions of the day -- "Ban the Bomb" campaigns, the civil rights movement, and deeper in the background the experience of the Japanese internment camps which were created prior to the stark finality of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

The bomb dropped on Hiroshima in a blast equal to 12,000-15,000 tons of TNT, destroyed five square miles of the city. The acute effects of the atomic bombings killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. All which suggest that the most sane person in the play Bombed is Claude Eatherly.

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