'Love Suicide' looks at effects of war, military life

2:03:00 PM CDT - Friday, November 17, 2006

By Shannon Littlejohn

Based on a true story, �The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks� brings to stage a tense drama that goes inside the double suicides of an Army general and his wife during the worst days of the Vietnam War.

The fact that those suicides were committed in a ritual fashion during a Halloween party in the officers' club at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii sends the Army division into shock as well as despair.

The play, written in 1972 by Romulus Linney, opens on campus Nov. 30 as part of the Mainstage Theatre Series. Although it�s set in the �60s/�70s era, it�s a play that is still timely, according to director Drew Tombrello.

�Since we started rehearsal for this play, 68 Americans have died,� he said, referring to the war in Iraq as of Nov. 13. �We are at war; people are dying.� The play, he has realized, is not only anti-war but anti-military.

�It�s a very interesting play,� said Tombrello, who counts Linney, the playwright, among his friends. �(They) killed themselves in high Japanese seppuku style.�

In last year�s fine arts season, WSU theater staged another Linney play, �Holy Ghost,� a controversial look at religious fanaticism.

Tombrello, who is drawn to plays of social significance, said he has lived with �Love Suicide� for a long time, since his days working with the Open Theatre, founded in 1963 and known as one of New York's most influential avant-garde performance groups. That theater grew out of the �60s and had only one mission: to break up the Vietnam War. When the war ended, Tombrello said, so did the theater.

As the play begins, the public suicides of the general and his wife have already occurred. Now, a military court of inquiry has convened. In an interesting twist to the tale, it�s a tribunal that the general himself had set up before the suicides.

People present at the party and others who knew the couple well are called to testify. Many offer their own theories of why the suicides occurred. As testimony and tension build, a compassionate portrait emerges of the division�s commanding general, a 20-year career officer, and his wife. That grows into a devastating awareness of the significance of the dead couple�s actions.

Tolerance, responsibility and self-deception also grow into troubling themes throughout the tribunal.

Because the staged courtroom setting is spare and static, the interest on stage rests on the colleagues, friends and acquaintances who testify about the couple�s thoughts and actions in the days before their suicides. The WSU staging will attempt to draw the audience in, however.

It�s a large cast, half of which is veteran to WSU stages, Tombrello said. The cast includes Zack Powell, Chris Roberts, Daniel Cooper, Javier Perez-Gomez, Laurie Sutton, Stephen Barker, Maurice Sims, Marius Ausbie, Cale Espinel, Adrienne Matzen, Yannic Dozier, Cassiday Proctor, Lindsay Iuen, Shae West and Robert Ryan. The �Noh Dancers� are Shera Haase and Stephen Barker.

Stage manager and sophomore Emily Smith said the play is coming together well. The rest of her crew of faculty and students includes set designer David Neville, lighting designer Evan Schmidt, costume designers Betty Monroe and Rebecca Maholland, Eric Walker on props, sound designer Nick Smith and technical director Ed Baker.

It will be a good production, said Tombrello, one that carries important messages about wars and militaries.

�The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks,� rated G, will run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Dec. 3, in Wilner Auditorium. Tickets are $10 with discounts available through the Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233.

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