“warplay”: A Play on Words, War, & Love, at NCTC, S.F.
JC Lee Exposes Ambitious Achilles & Agonized Patroclus
by Barry David Horwitz
Meet two young men: One named A for Achilles and the other P for Patroclus. Looming behind them we see Homer’s Iliad, while the Trojan War rages in their future. They speak like we do, and they feel like us. Their language is street lingo, but also poetic. They are soldiers, blazing a trail. And they manage to love each other. In a dynamic World Premiere, Director Ben Randle brings us JC Lee’s “warplay” at the New Conservatory Theatre Center.
They are childhood friends and still playing children’s games. They play in a multi-layed blue set designed by Devin Kasper—evocative of video games and war play. Ben Randle has orchestrated the elements into a riveting interplay of color, sound, and passion.
A (the powerful, muscular Ed Berkeley) knows that he is a driven young man, but he is powerless to change his nature. He remembers when his Mom dipped him into the river Styx and made him almost immortal—oh, that “almost!” The future of civilization balances on his heel and on his arms. Will he join the war and win Troy for his team? Or, will he remain behind with P, his buddy?
P (the stirring, sensitive JD Scalzo) knows what he’s doing and he does it with heat. As P, Scalzo pushes all of A’s buttons, and his own. He adores his buddy who is macho, mighty, and military. While A treks to the war, P wants to slow things down, camp out together, get to know each other. P is the poet, the thinker, the student. You have to watch Scalzo every moment because his body and expressions ebb and flow like the sea.
Scalzo burns up the stage, gets into the sadness of love, and makes believers of us all. He knows his hero, his bud, is on a self-destructive path. We feel how hard he tries to protect the stronger youth. P tries to be a hunter and a wrestler. He joins in, he jokes around; he sacrifices bunnies like he’s supposed to do. They are the original Odd Couple, but a couple they must be, forever.
The setting and staging by Director Ben Randle will astound you—there are great shadows cast by fathers and generals, the handing down of a massive shadowy shield, and rumbles from the distant Trojan War. You have to be there and sit on the edge of your seat for 70 minutes to find the future. It’s well worth the crossing. “warplay” is inspired Homer by JC Lee for our time. Randle is a magician.
Lee and Randle bring mystery to the first known gay love affair—and we wonder if A and P know where their connections begin and end. Their love is subtle and serious—it’s not physical—or is it? Maybe the distant rumbling and their deep caring will bring us the news. Lee’s play raises new questions about life in time of war, about love at any time.
When A handcuffs P to a great wooden ladder to keep him from following his friend to the war—out of love, we realize what great sacrifices they make for each other. Lee’s “warplay” boldly follows them even to the afterlife. Are they children, or heroes, or us?
And they talk over the River Styx about their love and their war. One has lost all memory of the past, but their separation reveals the “bruise of love.”
Their love persists, even in death. And these two superb actors carry us with them. “warplay” is a surprising piece of work that spans the centuries from Homer to Home Boys in a dangerous new world. Don’t miss it. They speak our language and they express our thoughts. You will never forget them.
“warplay” by JC Lee, directed by Ben Randle, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco, through Sunday, July 2, 2017. Info: nctcsf.org/warplay
Cast: Ed Berkeley and JD Scalzo.