Savages, like all theater, is plagued with exposition. (A significant part of the four-character drama is a social studies lesson.) Focus is sharpened, however, when the divisive principles and beliefs of a Filipina nurse and an American soldier reveal unseen evils at the same time United States Marine Major Littleton Waller is court-martialed for war crimes in 1902.
All the exchanges between Maridol and John are poignant, and it is shameful Nelson did not devote the drama to them. A need to pinpoint the savages during war—the natives defending their land with force, or the outsiders restoring order to an established culture with force?—is the defining element of the drama. Nelson does not pinpoint the savages, but her characters are memorable people full of observations about the power in perception and the changing conceptions of what the term savages means. That negligence is unacceptable—that people are responsible for educating themselves about the impact of martial action on civilian populations—is manifest in the drama and resonates with United States occupation of Iraq.
In short, Savages is an intense drama. Nelson has written an absorbing and reactive work that, uncovering an event from the Philippine and American War (1899-1914), brings to life two people as well as the circumstances that overcome them in times of weakness, truth, and discomfort.