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The Sandstorm: Stories from the Front

No explanations, no apologies. It's where you were.--- Marine

Darius Suziedelis
Producer Charlie Fink has joined with MetroStage to present the East Coast premiere of playwright Sean Huze's Iraq War drama The Sandstorm: Stories from the Front. The ten-man play is a series of vignettes that share Mr. Huze's experiences during his tour of duty fighting in "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Gritty, graphic and not for the squeamish, the play describes the horrors of war -- both in the field of battle and within the minds of the soldiers who do the actual killing.

Director Brett Smock has crafted a smoothly paced production that highlights the talents of the playwright and the cast members, although he has relied a bit too heavily on the actors yelling their lines at the audience. Jen Price's raked, copper and mesh set gives the air of a bunker or safe space for the men to unburden themselves during the confessional monologues. Matthew Fick's lighting highlights the dramatic moments nicely and Debra Kim Sivigny's costumes look like military issue.

Among the cast, Darius Suziedelis does a great job as the narrator, Marine Sgt David Casavecchia. Loved by his men and fellow officers, he is part parent, brother, and counselor to the others who drift across the stage sharing their insights and perceptions. Benjamin Fernebok is compelling as Lance Corporal Casey Dodd a young man trying to come to terms with the death of children in the war zone. Kevin Robinson is shocking as Corporal Tracy Waters who terrorizes a dying Iraqi man and enjoys his lunch while watching the legless man slowly die in the blazing desert heat.

Joey Collett brings a grisly humor to PFC Kyle Weems' attempts to return a foot back to its rightful owner after a harrowing military skirmish. And Michael Kevin Darnall is touching as CPL Marcus Rodriguez, who has lost his best friend in the war. Filling out the cast are: Jonas Grey, Craig Klein, John Slone, David Greenfield, and Theodore M. Snead -- all of whom pull us into the pathos and trauma that is war.

The stories center on incidents both great and small culled from actual battles where 100 civilians die in retaliation for the deaths of five Marines to a mail call interrupted by a bomb explosion. The mind games that the war plays on the men is shown through a Sergeant kicking a civilian senseless for disrupting a security line to a doctor helping an Iraqi man sift through the rubble of his bombed out home looking for the remains of his entire family.

Stark and disturbing, the images help to de-glamorize our popular film and computer game generated views of war as ego-driven hero worship-- images which the Department of Defense plays up in its recruitment campaigns. For this reason I would recommend the production for high school and college students who are thinking of enlisting.

While playwright Sean Huze's stories are insightful and compelling, for me the play is still a work in process. He's relied too heavily on single word epithets to express anger and rage, words which after a while lose their impact and become monotonous. One can stand on a street corner (or in a high school parking lot) and listen to people scream four-letter words at each other ad nauseum; however theatre is a medium of words and there are many more ways to explore inner horror than "Fuck this! Fuck that! Fuck you!" And I think Mr. Huze has the talent to give his characters more emotional depth.

Additionally, the ending is almost exactly like another play I watched last season, which I'll refrain from revealing so as to not give away the ending of this one. However, at the end of that play I thought "I've seen this ending before and could see it coming now." And the same holds true for Mr. Huze's The Sandstorm. But you may not want to take my word for it. The Sandstorm received a standing ovation the night I saw it.

All that said, the production itself is an important voice for bringing the reality of war home to an American audience which is fairly removed from the conflict except for a few sanitized images that flicker across the TV. The sad truth is that, while we drink our triple shot skinny mocha lattes with steamed milk and artificial sweetener, men and women are dying -- on both sides -- in an ongoing battle that few understand and about which very little intelligent, coherent discussion has taken place.

An interesting point here is that Mr. Huze joined the Marines shortly after September 11th and the World Trade Center attacks. He joined because he supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and his support continued until he returned home from active duty in 2003. At that point he began to come to terms with his experiences and could find no justification for the war. And it is from this void that The Sandstorm was born.

To further the discourse, MetroStage is hosting audience discussions after each Wednesday night performance with veterans of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" In addition, uniformed military personnel will be given complimentary admittance throughout the play's run.

If you want to take a look at war and its history, you can simply go check out CurtainUp's ongoing listing of Greek Theatre to see how little distance we have covered in 2000 plus years. As The Sandstorm's program so eloquently states, it is the soldiers "who bear the burden of the decisions made by our politicians." Maybe if our politicians had to go and fight their own wars, we would have less of them -- politicians and wars.

The Sandstorm: Stories from the Front
by Sean Huze
Directed by Brett Smock
with Darius A. Suziedelis, Benjamin Fernebok, Jonas Grey, Craig Klein, Kevin Robinson, John Slone, Joey Collett, David Greenfield, Michael Kevin Darnall, Theodore M. Snead
Set Design: Jen Price
Costume Design: Debra Kim Sivigny
Lighting Design: Matthew J. Fick
Sound Design: Matt Rowe
Running Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes with no intermission
A production of Charlie Fink in association with MetroStage
MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA
Telephone: 1-800-494-8497 or or
WED - FRI @8, Sat @7 & 9, SUN @2 & 7; $25
Opening 08/20/05, closing 09/25/05
Reviewed by Rich See based on 08/20/05 performance
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