Saturday, March 11
In brutal warfare who are the savages? Anne Nelson plays skillfully with semantics in her play which centers on the true story of the trial of Major Littleton Waller for war crimes in the Philippine-American War which spanned from 1899 until 1914. Here a savage is one who commits the atrocities of war and also one who lives in an uncivilized culture. However these roles are unclear and flip between the Americans and the Filipinos. There is no resolution in this play, no clear victim, and no clear aggressor.
Nelson uses the historic figures of General Adna Chaffee and Major Littleton Waller and also creates the fictitious characters of Maridol, a Filipino nurse, and Corporate John Hanley to give the conflict more depth.
This play is fantastically acted. In one of the most beautiful moments of the play, Maridol, played by Julie Danao-Salkin, cradles the Major in her arms under a mosquito net canopy as she sings a Filipino patriot song as sweetly as a lullaby. Julie Danao-Salkin as Maridol looks almost saintly with her billowing white sleeves and with her gentle touch. However, is Julie Danao-Salkin not only a simple, sweet nurse. She plays Maridol with the nurturing of Florence Nightingale and the bravery of Joan of Arc. Nelson has created here a wonderful character who changes like the sides of a coin between the nurturer and the insurgent.
Also dynamic is the pairing of General Chaffe and Major Waller played by Jim Howard (General) and James Matthew Ryan (Major). These two are pitted against each other in every aspect of their characterization: army verses navy and the southern major verses the northern general at a time where the ‘war of northern aggression’ was still fresh in the minds of Americans. Jim Howard plays Major Waller with such haunting fervor that his words are depictions and the audience sees war through his eyes. Completing the ensemble is Brett Holland who plays the inexperienced corporal. Chris Jorie has been with this project since its staged reading in
The production is also excellently designed with a gorgeous set by Lauren Helpern and lighting by Betsy Adams that is subtle and poetic.
Nelson has all the components of a great play: characters with pivotally different viewpoints, a situation that puts these viewpoints in conflict, and a team of talented actors and designers to flesh out a thoughtful and honest text. What this production needs is seamless transitions between scenes. Though each scene is strong and stands well on its own, the flow of the production is broken by the shifts which are slightly jarring. However this play is well worth catching. Savages runs until April first at the Lion Theatre.