Saturday, March 29, 2014

Review: Family First and Family Last

Every so often you find a play that offers a slice of life of reality after chaos. A piece that brings you the aftershock of trauma. In Bill Holland’s Hounds of War, we watch a family already torn apart by the past try to recover what was lost. After relocating to a cabin in the woods of upstate New York, Jim, a war veteran, and his wife Mary, and their two sons, Larry and Bobby, attempt to rekindle a family despite lingering problems and secrets.
Hounds of War is not your typical kitchen sink family drama. Sure, every character has a plot reveal that riles up a significant amount of tension. But their skeletons happen to be feasible and realistic to the world of the play. From Jim, an alcoholic who is suffering the affects of PTSD from war and unfaithfulness, to Larry, the prize military son who is afraid to tell his parents about his assignment to Afghanistan, to Mary, who may not have the same love she did for her husband but will stand by his side to save him, to Bobby, who is leaving school to be with his secret significant other. These problems circulate the world of the play and make sense, which is commendable. Holland’s script, though could use a bit of streamlining, is a solid family saga that spends a great deal of time balancing the line between love and abuse. Despite a great story, Holland’s characters wanted a little more depth, and a more oraganic voice. 
While the plot is a bit stronger than Holland’s characters, the strongest scene in the play was between brothers Larry and Bobby, played by Justin Hofstad and Patrick Massey respectively. Their organic chemistry made this sentimental scene of bonding, singing, and reminiscing the most exciting to watch against a setting where most other scenes featured explosives. Patrick Massey, who happens to have a beautiful singing voice, as kind hearted and pushed aside Bobby brought light into the world of the play. Margaret Curry as the eternal optimist Mary had a nurturing maternal essence that made you understand why she remained in the marriage with Jim for as long as she did. Christopher LaPanta as hardnosed and closed minded Jim was a bit erratic. His performance went from zero to sixty without warning. Though it could be due to the way the character was written, LaPanta seemed to lack natural transitions from subdued to anger, forcing it to appear as a caricature. Tony Head as Henry, the wisdom filled neighbor, was more of a device than a character.
Director Mark Cirnigliaro did a nice job developing a family for Holland. While, he could have helped LaPanta with Jim’s antics, the beauty of the brother’s scene was the highlight of his work. Scenic designer Bethanie Wampol Watson cleverly took the black box space and simply created a cabin retreat. The wood shadow box features really gave the set character.
Hounds of War, though not perfect, is a diamond in the rough. If anything should come of this play, it will be the fact that young actors will be performing the Larry and Bobby scene in their classes for years to come.