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THEATER REVIEW

It's the same old argument about Iraq

May 31, 2008|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Much of what "Over There/Over Here" has to say about the Iraq war sounds like what you may have been overhearing at Starbucks or, perhaps, saying yourself in armchair debates.

That's a strength, and a drawback, of this play, presented by the fledgling Relevant Stage company at San Pedro's Warner Grand Theatre.

Introduced a year and a half ago in New York, "Over There/Over Here" was created by Michael Reyes, an Iraq veteran and aspiring writer, for a free theater training program. As Reyes' actors, ages 17 to 23, developed the piece with him, they interviewed various New Yorkers, including active-duty service members and passengers on the Staten Island ferry, and generated characters through improvisation.

So when someone observes that Americans devote more thought to "American Idol" than to the news from Iraq, a voice in your head might murmur, "Yep, I've thought that."

The Relevant Stage's actors aren't as young as the show's originators, but whether they are portraying soldiers in a war-zone rec hall or civilians in a Brooklyn living room, they're offhandedly genuine -- the most compelling quality in this uneven offering.

The show's effectiveness is hampered by its rudimentary presentation (secondhand furniture on a bare stage) in a venue far too large for the material or for the audience turnout (a mere 16 people, in a sea of 1,500 seats, at Thursday's opening). The actors' voices barely reach the first rows.

Performances and pacing, as directed by company artistic director Ray Buffer, could be much better shaped. Still, Julius Verin exudes quiet dependability and determination as the central character, who joined the military as a path to education and a better life. The cast of nine also benefits from the contributions of Reggie Willis in widely different roles as a by-the-book lieutenant and as an amiably derelict ganja lover.

Ham-fistedly, the show illustrates that Americans have taken some of their worst behavior (knee-jerk defiance, sexism and racism) to Iraq and brought some of the worst of that dysfunctional country back with them. What is said sounds genuine, but then again, not very original.

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daryl.miller@latimes.com

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'Over There/ Over Here'

Where: Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. 6th St., San Pedro

When: 7 tonight, 1 p.m. Sunday

Price: $25

Contact: (310) 929-8129 or therelevantstage.com

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

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