Last Friday, President Barack Obama announced that all American troops in Iraq would be home for the holidays, thus ending a decade-long war that has long been likened to his country’s Vietnam II. In a strange twist of meaningful coincidence, his declaration coincided with the opening night of playwright Sean Devine’s debut, Re:Union, a multimedia drama borne from the horrific real-life story of Norman Morrison, a young Quaker who set himself on fire to protest the Vietnam War.
But Morrison didn’t simply set himself on fire. He did so with his baby daughter by his side, outside the Pentagon, in front of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s window. Devine’s script bounces back and forth between November 1965 and November 2001, imagining Morrison’s daughter, Emily (Alexa Devine), wrestling with her father’s legacy in a post-9/11 world. She sets a plan in motion to commemorate her father’s sacrifice by committing an act of terrorism on the anniversary of his death and seeks out McNamara (Andrew Wheeler) for help.
Devine poses timely, relevant questions, and features moments of real clarity, humour and compassion throughout. Where Re:Union stumbles is when Devine indulges in phrasing that comes off as academic poetry: stilted, overly aware and unnatural. This is particularly evident in the scenes between Morrison (Evan Frayne) and Emily, as father and daughter confront the circumstances of his death. It’s a marked contrast to the rapid-fire exchanges between Emily and McNamara, which spark with tension and intelligence. Wheeler proves a particular standout. His McNamara is the most fully realized character: gruff and self-important one minute, vulnerable and chastened the next.
A lot of theatre wants to make you think, but it’s an all-too-rare experience in Vancouver that after the curtain falls, you race home to research more about a play’s subject matter. That night, reading about Vietnam and the arguments made about its echoes in Iraq, it struck me that Devine’s Re:Union lays a claim that wars and plays struggle to achieve: mission accomplished. To Nov. 12 at Pacific Theatre, 8pm. Matinees: Sat, 2pm. $16.50-$29.50 from PacificTheatre.org. —Andrea Warner