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April 11, 2012

Iron Crow Theatre gives Baltimore premiere of Daniel MacIvor's 'The Soldier Dreams'

A young man lies inert on a bed, an IV drip his last tether to the world.

Periodically, a few curious words emerge from him, confusing his family members and his boyfriend, who have gathered for the long goodbye.

From this simple setup, Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor addresses familiar themes in “The Soldier Dreams,” a late-1990s work being given its Baltimore premiere in a mostly effective production by Iron Crow Theatre.

The play does its work in a span of only about 75 minutes. A little more time might actually have been a good thing, given the sketchiness of some details.

The central character of the dying David, for example, doesn’t emerge with much depth; repeatedly hearing that ...

he loved dancing and had cute uses for sign language goes only so far in defining his personality.

But MacIvor, who won Canada’s biggest theater award, the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize, a few years ago, has a painter’s touch. He makes almost each verbal brush stroke here count for something and, by the end of the play, he succeeds in creating an effective, sometimes affecting portrait of family and loss. He also is adept at the humorous jab, the kind where most of us can recognize ourselves as the target.

The undercoating is unstated, but unmistakable: David’s fatal illness is AIDS. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about “The Soldier Dreams” is the way MacIvor keeps that issue from looming over everything else.

The play isn’t concerned so much with how or why the popular David is slipping away well before his time, but how and why those closest to him respond to the fact.

Old sibling rivalries flare up. The lover resents or suspects the other mourners. An in-law who doesn’t quite fit in tries hard to show how much he cares. A nurse patiently navigates through the tension in the room to do her work.

The universality of all this goes without saying, and, at its best, the Iron Crow staging at Theatre Project captures the elements in the play that can speak to anyone who has had to keep a death watch (or fears one).

What adds crucial spice to the scenario is the revelation that David, who was in an open relationship, had a brief encounter while in Ottawa for his older sister’s wedding, an encounter no one else knows about.

The memory of meeting a German medical student — the mysterious words from the deathbed all relate to this — is what replays in David’s mind. The highest sensual and emotional peak for David? The night he was infected? Perhaps both.

Cleary, David is the one handling death more calmly than those around him. Unlike them, he is long past the mundane and petty. If he still had his faculties, he’d obviously tell everyone to get along and get over it.

Directed by Steven J. Satta-Fleming, the action unfolds simply, maybe too simply, on Daniel Ettinger’s spare set. All the standing around the bed (the sole prop) and all the exits-in-a-huff through a black curtain upstage leave something to be desired.

As Tish, David’s older and colder sister, anxious to assert authority and claim the role of chief mourner, Marsha Becker does admirable work, especially in the break-the-fourth-wall monologues (the play is heavily dependent on this worn device). She makes telling points just by the way she handles her reading glasses in a scene when Tish tries to introduce a slide show about her brother.

Steve Sawicki impressively gets to the genuine heart of Tish’s nerdy husband Sam, who jots down pathetic haiku and worries constantly about being PC. Karin Crighton is on target as David’s kid sister Judy. Joseph Ritsch gives a rather stiff, one-note performance as Richard, David’s lover.

While Alec Weinberg lies in a very convincing catatonic state on the bed, Paul Wissman portrays David for the memory scenes, and does so with nuance and charm. Too bad he looks so awkward (most actors would) in the inevitable, regrettable dancing finale, which slathers a dollop of kitsch into the proceedings.

Rich Buchanan brings a subtle sensuality to the role of the German student, who provides the multi-faceted key to the play when he tells David: “Even when the soldier dreams, the war goes on around him.” Sarah Lynn Taylor ably rounds out the cast as the level-headed nurse.

Michael Perrie’s original music, which has an appropriate hint of Bach chorales, adds a nice touch.

Performances continue through April 21.


Posted by Tim Smith at 2:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens


Mr. Smith,
You seem incapable of giving a real compliment to any show, be it classical music or theatre. Negativity truly seems to invade everything that you write. Even what you say about Ms. Becker seems tainted by your word choice. Your good reviews (which I'd consider this a good review for you) always seem so gloomy, and makes the reader wonder if the show was actually worth their time. If I hadn't seen this show and only read your review, I'd never go see it. I did see this production, it was an emotional rollercoaster. Ms. Becker is the obvious stand out, but I honestly do not understand the comment about Mr. Ritsch. His character, while not the most defined, was honest and lovable. He had perhaps one of the most truthful and beautiful scenes in the entire show with his ending monologue. You mention wanting more time for them to develop the character of David…his whole character is a shadow, a memory, a mystery nothing about him is concrete to the audience, that’s the point. Also - I'm not sure where you heard the influence of "bach chorales" in that music, but I'd be highly interested in having a conversation with Mr. Perrie (a theatre major at Towson University, who is self-taught in piano and guitar and has no formal music background) whether or not this is a true statement. You my friend should consider a new outlook on life, your job is to review theatre and music, what an absolutely amazing/magical job. If something is good, then let people know it's good. Stop with this ambiguous nonsense.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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