One sits there for two hours numbed by the experience of watching the talented cast often vigorously playing for laughs that aren’t there. They are Rand Guerrero, Ralph Guzzo, William Laney, Chris McFarland, Hannah Jane McMurray, Sarah O’Sullivan, Tom Paolino and Gameela Wright.
In Mr. Dietz’s scenario the action shifts between Washington, D.C. and a Holiday Inn in St. George’s, Grenada. The characters are two U.S. senators, a CIA agent, a presidential advisor, a presidential speechwriter, a native hotel clerk and two medical students. The dialogue is filled with government jargon and verbose rhetoric.
On October 23, 1983, 241 U.S. Armed Forces were killed when a truck with explosives hit their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. They were there as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Fifty-eight French soldiers were also killed.
On October 25, 1983, U.S. Army forces invaded the Caribbean nation of Grenada which was beset by civil war. President Reagan’s explanation of the assault was to protect 1,000 U.S. nationals, many of whom were medical students from harm and being taken hostage. Reagan had earlier in the year expressed concern about a newly constructed airport on the island that could be used by the Soviets to attack the U.S.
Many people believed that the three-day invasion was a contrived reaction by the Reagan Administration to save face after the Beirut bombings which was two days earlier, by rapidly achieving a military success. Dietz cynically explores that possibility with his behind-the-scenes depiction of Washington insiders caught up in the events.
The play was first performed in Seattle, Washington, in 1991 and the PBS Frontline documentary “Operation Urgent Fury” from that year is cited by the author as background material. Intended as a black comedy with serious overtones it is difficult to judge the play’s merits based on this overwrought incarnation.
During the pre-show and throughout the presentation, familiar 80’s pop songs are blared. Periodically projected onto the stage’s walls are news broadcasts from that era with clips of Reagan, Pope John Paul, Margaret Thatcher and a very young Tom Brokaw being featured. This high-tech nostalgia soon becomes a wearying distraction that contrasts with Dietz’s simpler vision.
Director Alexander Dinelaris’ energetic physical staging does contribute momentum, precision and pacing that all visually holds interest. Mr. Dinelaris’ work with the actors is mostly in the mode of louder, faster, funnier, and this approach makes little impact.
On the L-shaped stage scenic designer Rebecca Lord-Surratt has created a neat multi-level, all-gray veranda with lattice panels that perfectly conveys the locales and allows for swift scene transitions.
Greg MacPherson’s moody lighting design adeptly conveys the fog of war and political machinations with fluctuating shadowiness, dimness and brightness. Sound designer Nick Moore keeps the loudness of the music and effects bearable. Though overused, Nathan W. Scheuer’s projection design is expert. Power suits, a black suit and basic garments are the main elements of Amy Sutton’s fine costume design.
Turning 60 years old this year and having written over 30 produced plays since the 1980’s, Steven Dietz has for a number of years been on the list of Top Ten Most Produced Playwrights in America. The bulk of his works have been performed at regional theaters. New York City has seen the Off-Broadway production of his 1992 AIDS allegory Lonely Planet and its revival in 2017. In 2004, the Roundabout Theatre Company presented his play Fiction Off-Broadway.
This Oberon Theatre Ensemble production of Halcyon Days does little to aid in a discovery by New York audiences of Mr. Dietz’s perhaps relatively unacknowledged talents.
Halcyon Days (through March 25, 2018)
Oberon Theatre Ensemble
Jeffrey & Paula Gural Theatre at A.R.T./ New York Theatres
502 West 53rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.oberontheatre.org
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission