Friday, June 2, 2017

Review of Something Marvelous's Johnny 10 Beers' Daughter at Chicago Dramatists

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Johnny 10 Beers' Daughter. It was by Dana Lynn Formby, and it was directed by Emmi Hilger. It was about a father, Johnny (Randy Steinmeyer), and a daughter, Leila (Arti Ishak) who both served in Iraq with the Marines. It was about their relationship and how it is changed by war. It is about war, PTSD, and how complex your duty is to the world, your country, and the people around you. I think this is a really beautiful and moving show. The relationships are so well-written and it really made me feel for the characters.

This play did something that is very hard to do: combine humor with terrifying situations that actually don't end well. There was a scene where the dad and the daughter were talking about funny stories he had from his time in Iraq. It started out with a story about a ferret-like creature that the dad and his team almost ran over. There was a line where he was talking about how he saw the creature making his little ferret bucket list. And I thought that that was absolutely hilarious. But then his friend says something that he finds funny because he's been in this situation, which is, "You killed somebody's grandmother today, and you're worried about running over a ferret?!" It is his everyday thing now to have to kill people so, when someone jokes about it, it is kind of like someone joking about buying a pizza. But his daughter reacts with concern for her dad because he finds that funny. And you sense she is also scared for herself because she realizes what she has gotten herself into by joining the Marines. This scene was funny, sad, humanizing, and horrifying. It is hard to make people feel all different types of emotions packed into one tight scene, and they did a really good job of it.

The play calculated every scene by beers because Johnny was known as Johnny 10 Beers because his motto is basically nine beers is never enough. They used projections (designed by Michelle Underwood) to tell you what scene we were on, but not in a normal way--with the word Beer. And they used a recording of one of the songs (music and sound design by Barry Bennett) that Leila and Johnny would sing together about drinking and being a Marine. It was really interesting that they had a scene for every line of the song and every beer Johnny drank and stacked. He poured out one too for T-Bone, who was his best friend and was killed in the war, but later you think it is possibly for someone else. There are also other repeating themes, like fishing, broken promises, and writing letters. The set (designed by Nicholas Schwartz) is even made out of letters. This gives the story a pattern to go along. There are a lot of things in the Marine life, like their drills, which they need to do over and over again until they can do them in their sleep. And they basically do the same thing with the show's pattern. They are both scarred by what they have seen, and repetition seems familiar and easy to them. But it is sometimes something else, something tragic. With repetition, time seems endless, which is tragic because it doesn't seem like anything new happens which I think is one of the best parts of life. But then it also is beautiful because repetition, when it is memory, can help you see things that might be over that you miss.

I think it is really beautiful to see Leila grow up because you see her from as young as when she was seven, up until after she was deployed as a Marine many times. Then you also see all the terrible things that she's gone through, and that makes it depressing to see her going through so much and seeing her dad go through so much for her. I think the actor playing Leila did such a great job at growing so much over a long time in such a short play. I think that plays about seeing people grow up into adults are all heartbreaking because thinking about the parent's experience is really terrible, especially in this play. He is seeing a part of himself going away and having the risk of being killed. The beautiful part is that he is seeing a part of himself maturing and learning more.

People who would like this show are people who like touching stories, meaningful repetition, and ferret bucket lists. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a gorgeous, awesome story with great performances. I really loved it.

Photos: Anthony Aicardi

No comments: