“American Soldiers” at Albany Civic Theater Asks, What Are We Fighting For?
It’s a late night in the Hicksville, Long Island house of Carlo Coletti (Joseph Bruton) as he pads around the kitchen sneaking shots of Maker’s Mark and glimpses out the backdoor window waiting for something or someone. His son Carlo Jr (Gabriel Hage), a local politician running for his mother’s Assembly seat arrives and convinces his father to go to bed, shuts out all the lights and the back door opens. Exploding onto the stage is Angela Coletti (a fearsome Molly Waters) who is just returning from Iraq where she lost a lover to an IED and where she has lost faith in this country, what it stands for and seemingly everything she was taught growing up. She immediately laces into Carlo for a recent newspaper interview “I’ve never met a politician who didn’t use a veteran every chance they got.”
The next morning finds Angela returning with her hometown squeeze Hutch (invaluable David Quinones) after a night of drinking. She recruits him to join her plan to escape society and its ills and live in a cabin in Colorado with her younger sister. They steal off to her childhood bed and leave the stage clear for an early morning scene of Carlo Sr. making organic eggs when the younger daughter Marie (lovely Siobahn Shea) straggles in at 7:30 am, in a pretty blue party dress (costumes by Susan Dantz). There is much to be hashed out in this family. It’s the weekend of the youngest Coletti’s baptism and Angela has come home scarred from her service, willing and eager to take on not just what she considers her family’s phony liberalism but their moral piety as Catholics as well.
“American Soldiers” is an angry play. Angela lights into the cafeteria Catholicism of the family asking how they believe in gay rights, a woman’s right to choose and equal rights and opportunities for all, as they continue to attend mass and support the Catholic church. Angela and her father Carlo, a Viet Nam vet, have the most pitched battles and it is suggested that her anger and disillusionment are symptoms of PTSD. It asks a lot of amateur actors and with the help of keen direction by Dennis Schebetta, they all acquit themselves very well, indeed. It is tough to sit through a series of confrontations but there is plenty of variety, levity, and depth to draw you in rather than recoil. I saw this production on the evening that 51 senators voted not to hear from witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump and an evening of disillusionment and full-throated rage in a theater packed with like-minded souls was just what I was looking for to give me hope. The play is repetitive and could use more of a transformation for its characters but it is a brave, worthy play for Albany Civic Theater to give a Capital Region premiere.
Molly Waters is terrific in the pivotal role of Angela, going toe-to-toe with her brother and father or playing happily with Hutch. We are troubled that someone so appealing has lost their way and it is a great boost to the play that we like Waters’ Angela so much. David Quinones as Hutch is enormous fun on stage. His every utterance is spontaneous and guileless, his movements are amusing and his happiness being onstage is contagious. Luckily for all he’s cast in THIS play because everyone has more fun with Mr. Quinones around. Siobahn Shea is great as the put-upon Marie who can’t seem to make up her own mind and has to parse her allegiances to Angela and Carlo. She is another stage animal I am fond of watching in whatever she’s in. Gabriel Hage is all buttoned-down respectability, trying to keep a lid on the family explosions and run a campaign at the same time. It is a new role for Hage who has mostly done musicals up to now (soo good as Gomez in last fall’s “Addams Family”) and he does very well by the part. Bruton has his largest role to date and does an excellent job finding all the different colors and gradations to this caring, widower, veteran. His humorous asides are a saving grace. It should be noted as a testament to the ever-growing Capital Region theater that the director, Dennis Schebetta, and all these actors except for Quinones are making their Albany Civic Theater debuts.
The physical production is very sweet. Set designer Adam Coons got a huge assist from Habitat for Humanity ReStore which loaned furniture and cabinets and has made a lovely suburban kitchen out of them. David Caso has done his usual excellent job on lights, Jim Dick contributes sound effectively again and Katie Weinberg stage manages.
“American Soldiers” is a loud, angry play that asks a lot of its audience and cast. Albany Civic Theater and Dennis Schebetta have done a great service choosing this play as we continue to decide what are the essential values in this American experiment.