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THEATER | REVIEW

'Private Battle' takes ferocious view

May 23, 2003|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

On the vast battlefield known as America, a soldier fights for his life. He is Pvt. Battle, whose name describes his state of being in "Private Battle." Vivid, sexy, provocative and harrowing, this drama -- which playwright Lynn Manning has updated for a presentation by Watts Village Theater Company -- takes a long, hard look at our fraying social fabric.

Like "Woyzeck," the Georg Buchner drama that inspired it, "Private Battle" is a tragedy driven by social position and surroundings. The story unfolds in the present-day U.S. military, which Pvt. Battle (Glenn Herman) has joined because he wants to believe the promise of "Be all you can be." Yet with a deepening sense of despair, he realizes that the military won't necessarily save him from any of the fates for which he seems destined: poverty, prison or the graveyard.

While stationed in Kentucky awaiting deployment (Manning's updates place the story within the context of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts), Battle finds himself trying to support two families: a fiancee with a baby back home as well as a girlfriend, Marie (Victoria Platt), and another baby in the town near the base. To earn extra money, Battle participates in clinical trials of an oral contraceptive. Hallucinations seize hold, and he becomes convinced of a massive conspiracy theory.

L. Kenneth Richardson's staging is a delirium in which black light casts a creepy glow, phantom figures lurk in the shadows and furnishings float around the stage on rollers as part of an ever-changing, disorienting landscape.

Manning writes with ferocity as well as compassion, as he did in "Weights," his autobiographical solo play about the shooting that robbed him of his sight. Deft touches include the clinical trial's eerily similarity to the Tuskegee experiment of 1932-72, which turned African American men into guinea pigs for syphilis research.

"Private Battle" homes in on America's divisions and breakdowns, and suggests that there's plenty of blame to go around. But it quietly insists that finger-pointing isn't the answer. Taking responsibility for ourselves and for others -- that's the solution.

*

'Private Battle'

Where: Mafundi Institute (Robert Pitts Center), northwest corner of 103rd Street and Wilmington Avenue, L.A.

When: Saturday, 3 and 8 p.m.; next Friday and May 31, 8 p.m.; June 1, 2 p.m.

Ends: June 1

Price: $20

Contact: (323) 692-3537

Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

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