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Insides Out

July 6, 2012

The closest I’ve ever come to war is two week’s worth of Krav Maga classes at a local gym. Or maybe that time when I was 12 and attempted to beat up my brother over use of the computer. Sure, I watched Operation Iraqi Freedom on the news, but then I suspect that’s even farther from the real thing than a Spielberg movie. Point being, war is hell and I have only the faintest ideas about either of them.

David Rabe, on the other hand, knows what’s he’s talking about. He was personally involved in the catastrophe that was Vietnam and his play, Sticks and Bones, is sufficiently messed up to prove it. The highly stylized dialogue of the play is set up to highlight the horse-with-blinders denial of every character. Instead of realistic dialogue with subtext, Rabe causes his characters to speak the subtext itself, making the other characters’ complete disregard for the needs and feelings of others that much more obvious.

For most of the first act, as Vietnam vet David returns home from the war to his parents, Ozzie and Harriet (yes, it was on purpose), and his brother Rick, this unique approach proves as interesting and mysterious as it sounds. But as act one nears it’s conclusion, it seems as though Rabe’s inside-out play wants to right itself again, but it can’t. The playwright is stuck with the limited tools he gave himself at the outset.

The end result is by far the most bizarre ending sequence I’ve ever read in any play. Ever. Merely describing it can’t possibly do justice to the material, because I’m still not sure if what’s on the page is actually what’s supposed to be happening. What is clear from Sticks and Bones is that, for both Rabe and his namesake, war changes the warrior in ways that no one else could possibly understand.

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