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In “Seeing You,” experience U.S. military’s dark mindset in great ‘patriotic’ WWII
Created and directed by Randy Weiner and Ryan Heffington.
450 West 14th Street, New York City, at 10th Ave.
Opened June 21, 2017, closes Aug 31, 2017.
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar June 27, 2017
Just before you enter the large open space where this immersive play takes place, you pick up a silver dog tag that says, “Seeing you – heaven, hell or Hoboken.” It’s the fate of some American soldiers who have just been drafted to fight in World War II.
SEEING YOU - Write your acceptable kill number here.
It’s also their fate to be subject to flag-waving jingoism by the local congressman (Ted Hannan). And to endemic racism: at a see-off-the-draftees party at a local music club, one of the friends (Eriko Jimbo) is thrown out because she is Japanese. Welcome to the fight for democracy: plus ça change…
Directors Randy Weiner and Ryan Heffington have created a mood and a critique that makes you at once see how people get caught up in faux patriotism and how shot through that is with hypocrisy.
The large space is like a warehouse divided into sections that light up when something is going to happen there. (Design is by Desi Santiago.) First you move to see small groups, a soldier and lover, brother and sister, people saying goodbye or having arguments.
That leads to the congressman who tells everyone to “put your hand on your heart.” He informs them that “the U.S. has powerful weapons going into Japan” and says to write down on a piece of paper (distributed to the audience) how many Japanese you’d be willing to kill to save a million GIs.
SEEING YOU - Cast, basic training or war, the brutality is endemic. Photo by Steven Truman Gray
Some people actually fill out the scraps labeled “War Department, Office of the Chief of Staff. Total Number of Acceptable Casualties.”
They hand them in; the tally is not reported. (Historians have said for years that the Japanese were about to surrender and that Truman had political reasons to fireball Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)
Now, on to basic training. The audience is instructed to form facing lines, told to say “Yes Sir” and point their fingers as if they were pistols at the person across from them. “Pull the trigger as soon as you see his face or he will kill you.”
Then, parallel to the lines, the soldiers race furiously in a dance that exudes violence – the choreography and the singing are the best parts of this production. Heffington is the choreographer.
SEEING YOU - Cast and audience, the med tent gets the wounded. Photo by Steven Truman Gray.
We are ushered into a medical tent with dangling intravenous tubes. Easy to figure that out. Then there are a series of encounters and movements I didn’t quite understand.
My favorite scene is the USO show, run by the same Ray (Jay Stuart) who ran the club back home. Lauren Cox is very good as a Josephine Baker-type dancer who explodes at how she is mistreated because she is black.
I loved the glittery show girls number with fine renditions of bubbly melodies of the era. But then comes a sinister dance in which soldiers with batons assault a young Japanese woman. The ambient racism has moved from stateside to the war zone.
One performer (the excellent Jodi McFadden) crosses the stage with a very large bomb affixed to her chapeau. We see where it’s going – to a place where there will be an explosion, smoke, destruction, debris.
That war (unlike current ones) does end. Some soldiers return, embrace their women, and McFadden sings the iconic 40s song of overseas troops, “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
The acting is often hokey, the dancing and singing terrific, and the intrinsic political commentary on the mark.
Visit Lucy’s website http://thekomisarscoop.com/
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