OC WEEKLY

COLLATERAL DAMAGE

It’s remarkable that Brit playwright Philip Osment’s 2003 drama Collateral Damage hadn’t been produced in the U.S. until the Rude Guerrilla Theater Co.’s Dave Barton stumbled upon the script whilst trolling the Internet. It’s a fine work, filled with politically progressive themes and ideas that would have surely appealed to hundreds of other tiny, lefty-leaning storefront theaters around the country, maybe even some bigger ones, too. The central focus is on the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building—that other terrorist attack on U.S. soil, the one committed by Timothy McVeigh, a proud, flag-waving Gulf War veteran. A talented cast of 25 nicely convey how such monumental, human-made disasters affect people in different ways, from McVeigh himself, spurred to act by what he felt was the government’s overzealous, murderous work at Ruby Ridge and Waco, to the heartbreak felt by McVeigh’s family when they realize the monster he’s become, to the people who immediately assume that the bombing was done by Ay-rabs, to a victim’s wife who feels abandoned by God, to men who put the moves on grieving [survivors], to a victim’s father who, Jesus-like in his ability to forgive, doesn’t want McVeigh to suffer the death penalty. There are some improbabilities (would a TV reporter who’s just been accosted by an intruder in her home really wind up cradling him in her arms just minutes later?), and you feel that Osment at times falls into a trap of stereotyping Oklahomans as shallow rednecks. Yet it’s all worth it for the kicker near the end, when McVeigh’s [neighbor] remarks, “Remember how he came home from Iraq? He wasn’t the same,” possibly an Osment nod to the current Iraq war. After the line is delivered, it’s impossible not to wonder if more McVeighs are currently being emboldened by the war machine this very minute.

Rich Kane

Los Angeles Times

“In the aftermath of Oklahoma City”

Ten years ago this week, the Oklahoma City bombing devastated a city, a state, the nation. This unfathomable act shapes "Collateral Damage." Philip Osment's [2003] semi-docudrama receives its U.S. premiere at the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company.

Devised by Osment in tandem with Mike Alfords' second-year London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art students, "Collateral Damage" weaves imagined reactions into actual events. After an opening tableau of wailing Iraqi women, we meet Timothy McVeigh (Frank Romeo), who is returning from the Gulf War. Next come McVeigh's family and various Oklahoma City citizens. Some, like Brenda Kenworthy and Karen Harris' bereaved relations, or Kelly Pinza's interfaith wife, or Sara Mashayekh's Waco survivor, are fictional creations. Others, like Bud Welch (David Cramer), haunted by his deceased daughter (Victoria Marcello), are not.

Welch's path to forgiveness inspired "Collateral Damage," which leaps between the survivors and perpetrator McVeigh. He goes from Waco-propelled violence to a Colorado prison, where he, Ted Kazcynski (Greg Cohen), Ramzi Yousef (Brian Batts) and Luis Felipe (Alejandro Lara) give "Collateral Damage" its edgiest moments.

Director-set designer Dave Barton makes ripe staging choices. The bombing is almost Kabuki, Barton's black-and-white set strewn with overturned chairs and red paper. The back chain-link fence, covered by memorial artifacts during intermission, makes its own statement, aided by David Gallo's sound and Renee Gallo's lights.

Yet despite the script's noble intentions and "Laramie Project" template, the academic origins are evident. The scattered narrative is equal parts pamphlet and drama. This softens the impact, as does uneven casting, at times almost community college level. Though worthwhile, "Collateral Damage" has more intellectual jolts than visceral ones, which diminishes its tragic scope.

–David C. Nichols

 

'Damage' too fragmented
Review: In its U.S. premiere, the account of the Oklahoma City bombing gets an uneven staging.

By ERIC MARCHESE
Special to the Register

No one can doubt that the magnitude of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have caused the infamous April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City to recede, for many, into a distant memory.

That fact makes "Collateral Damage" all the more important - and as many this week recognize that terrible event's 10th anniversary, and commemorate its 168 victims, Rude Guerrilla Theater Company does so by delivering the U.S. premiere of Philip Osment's 2003 drama.

This part-factual, part-fictional theatrical account and the bombing itself - the most deadly attack on U.S. soil by home-grown terrorists in our nation's history - are equally sobering, as Osment follows several characters whose lives are inexorably altered by the deadly blast.

Osment also follows the friends and relatives of McVeigh (blandly played by Frank Romeo), for whom the bombing and its aftermath were an entirely different type of ordeal. We see McVeigh as an exemplary soldier, highly decorated in the Gulf War, then his shock over the April 19, 1993, siege of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, his resulting fanatical hatred of the U.S. government and, finally, his imprisonment and eventual execution.

Although having the national premiere of this play is an auspicious occasion for the theater, director Dave Barton's staging is only infrequently gripping. Spun out over more than three-dozen scenes, Osment's sprawling, fragmented script fails to achieve any sort of cumulative power. On just a few occasions, Barton's casting and Osment's writing mesh perfectly. The bulk of this production, though, is undermined either by the cast's perfor mances or by Osment's often-prosaic writing and a script whose reach far exceeds its grasp.

The bombing is effectively staged with various characters shielding their faces from a blinding light. As dozens of folding chairs flip upside-down, the photographic images of the victims are flashed onto a wall at almost subliminal speed. More symbolic are the dozens of red rose petals flung into the air and the littering of the floor with teddy bears representing the 19 children who died while in the building's day-care center, and the makeshift memorial that springs up along the building's perimeter, including photos of the deceased, flowers, American flags and stuffed animals.

Some of the weakest scenes involve Romeo, who misses McVeigh's single-minded obsessiveness and fanaticism. We get artificial animosity, not electric danger, from the quartet of McVeigh and cellmates Ted Kazcynski (the "Unabomber"), 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef and Latin Kings gang leader Luis Felipe. Only Alejandro Lara, as Felipe, has the right tone, taunting his cellmates with macho bluster. Greg Cohen's Kazcynski is simply cerebral, not spookily delusional, and as Yousef, Brian Batts, like Romeo, needs the courage of his character's convictions.

Osment's script trails off into unneeded subplots, including a racist Oklahoma man (Rick Kopps) whose daughter (Kelly Pinza) has married an Iraqi and converted to Islam, and a TV newscaster (Natasha Atalla) stalked by a young admirer (Gregory Palmerino) trying to make sense of the bombing. Even within individual scenes, this staging is of two minds: Brandon Kasper is stoic asthe cop keeping a lid on his churning emotions, but Michelle Valadez rings hollow in her performance as his wife, supposedly desperate to help the victims. As empty is Christine Tanabe as a supposedly grief-stricken young woman whose fiancé perished - and is the sight of a church congregation singing the title song from the musical "Oklahoma!" meant to move us, or evoke laughter?

Helping to redeem Osment's text are the raw, honest emotions of Brenda Kenworthy, Drew Sutherland and Craig Pinza as, respectively, a young woman and her current and ex-husbands coping with the death of Kenworthy and Pinza's preschool-age daughter. Karen Harris depicts the confusion and emotional torture of a woman shattered by her brother's death - and guilt-ridden that her husband, not her brother, survived. As firefighters who console her, Brett Fenoglio is sturdy and Bryan Prince intense and searching, Kurt Jarrard is calm, rational and comforting as a church pastor, and - despite the fact that Osment is preaching at us through her - Sara Mashayekh is impassioned as a Waco survivor.

Most compelling, though, is David Cramer as the real-life figure of Bud Welch, mourning the death of daughter Julie. Besotted with grief and alcohol, Bud feels only cold, merciless hatred for McVeigh; the story turns poignantly surreal when Julie (Victoria Marcello) appears to Bud as a spirit. Cramer's performance fully realizes the drama inherent in Bud's spiritual journey from white-hot venom and a thirst for revenge to the absolution of his hatred for McVeigh and the McVeigh family. Clad in white, Marcello's Julie is calm and serene, representing a mercy that counterbalances Bud's vitriol. Not all of Osment's dialogue here is subtle - but, thankfully, Cramer and Marcello find exactly the right notes of healing.