Nina V. Negron and Janice Landry
in a scene from Deployed
(Photo credit: Doug Barron)
Feminism, sexual liberation, and gender equality are among the most popular topics bandied about in contemporary discourse. Perhaps they are too popular. Deployed – composer, lyricist, and book writer Jessy Brouillard’s new musical currently playing at the New York Musical Theater Festival – proves that these ubiquitous terms have lost their pith. Favoring cliché over content, the show nobly attempts to examine the latent misogyny in the United States military vis-à-vis the institutional oppression of Iraqi women but ultimately shoots itself in the foot.
Deployed follows female corporal Emily Baker through her tour in Baghdad. Having volunteered under the pretense of training incoming soldiers, the exceedingly capable Baker is livid to find the platoon has reassigned her to the all-female civilian militia. Complications arise when her tumultuous relationship with Lieutenant Anthony Wilkes and her tenuous friendship with native interpreter Laila clash. Despite Brouillard’s attempt to paint a sophisticated portrait of a fiercely independent female corporal, he instead depicts a protagonist almost entirely defined by the men surrounding her.
Deployed‘s visceral pop/rock score rife with schmaltzy ballads evokes a uniquely 21st century war zone: the computers do the dirty work while the “ignorant Americans” (another recurring cliché) argue and complain back at the base. As is the case in too many NYMF shows, Deployed‘s hyper-aware characters have no reservations singing their deepest, darkest emotions at each other. Furthermore, Brouillard does well to create a contemporary soundscape, but his generic harmonizations and mis-stressed syllables hinder memorability and intelligibility.
“You’re so complicated!” Emily’s boyfriend, friends, and colleagues repeatedly say in futile attempts to justify her numerous reactionary and spiteful actions. Most notably, she rashly accepts her Middle East post not to employ her talents for the greater good, but rather to “prove” to the army men that she can handle the intensity of war. To make matters worse, she does so without so much as consulting her lieutenant boyfriend, suggesting that female independence means making important life decisions with no regard to others. As the drama unfolds, Brouillard chalks up his heroine’s strength to failed relationships, sexual transgressions, and daddy issues. Despite NYMF newcomer Janice Landry’s passionate portrayal and solid vocals, Emily remains one-dimensional. Complicated? Perhaps. But certainly not complex.
The women surrounding Emily are likewise oversimplified. Nina V. Negron’s damaged and fragile Laila, a nineteen year-old orphaned Iraqi, is defined solely by the death of her family. Despite their rocky start, the two become friends in a somewhat condescending ballad about how the underprivileged Middle Eastern girl needs an American big sister. Similarly, the mis- and underused Broadway veteran Natalie Toro does her best to add depth to the sex-obsessed caricature Sergeant Brooke Redmond.
As sentimentalized war narratives are wont to do, Deployed leaves us with the mother of all clichés: why can’t we all just get along? This musical’s heart is in the right place, but its thesis ultimately proves generic and reductive; the complexities of gender dynamics and political tensions far exceed Deployed‘s grasp.
Deployed (July 16 – 22, 2014)
New York Musical Theater Festival
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.nymf.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission