Friday, February 1, 2019

The P.O.W. and the Girl (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Honestly this title made me think of a story.  Some German or Italian POW in the United States who gets to know some local girl, "girl" as in under 21 years old or maybe under 18, and some kind of experience they share together, an insight into the nature of the world.

I got nearly all of that wrong.

The P.O.W. and the Girl in fact proved a semi-autobiographical tale by playwright Katrina Wood about her relationship with her grandfather, who had been a Japanese POW.  To be sure (she told me in a chat after the show) events are not simply a recreation of exactly what happened.  But there's a lot there almost word for word.

The Girl is Sarah (Samantha Mallory) of the title is going to school in London, hoping to become a paramedic and living with her Grandfather Johnny (Chas Mitchell) who can seen as...well irascible.  Or a mean old coot who snarls at people and complains pretty much without stop.  He puts down his granddaughter, sneers at pretty much everything she says or does, but in flashbacks (both theatrical and psychological) some of what he endured comes out.  Clearly the man still has PTSD, which only began to be truly understood around the period of the play, the 1980s.

Credit:  Mick Wood
Sarah frankly feels trapped in her life, trying to make it out alive, seeing herself a prisoner.  One of many little ironies scattered throughout.  Later she meets Paul (Adrian Burke), a young man of similar tastes and with a kind-hearted streak.  Each, it proves, feels exactly the same way about their own lives.  Trapped.  Imprisoned.   Subject to the issues of a parental figure who doesn't seem to care.

Knowing but not knowing this, sensing it without realizing anything, maybe that is why they find each other.

Now there's a lot good to say about this play and its production.  The bottom line is that I felt moved by events portrayed.  The central characters--Sarah, Johnny and Paul--ultimately grabbed my attention and sympathy.  Rather than wishing them well in the abstract, I genuinely wanted the best for them.  For healing.  For happiness.  For peace and hope. 

Credit:  Mick Wood
I have some issues here and there.  The start (this is so often a problem) offers context but does not compel.  That come later.  Johnny's years as a POW aren't really explored much, so seem out of balance with the quiet, relentless agony felt by Sarah.  Supporting characters in the play hardly seem to exist save as cardboard cutouts--played by Lucas Helmersson, Jeffrey Gibson, and Natalia Bilbao (who does a lot with very little).

But what stands out remains my emotional reaction.  I'm too jaded to be satisfied by a play that goes through the motions or performances that don't ultimately feel like human beings talking, reacting, deciding.  Sarah, Paul and Johnny ended up a trio who touched my heart.  What happens with, to and by them by play's end feels achieved.  More it reminds us there's more to life than tragedy or regret, even if we are very lucky not to end up with lots of both. 

The P.O.W. and the Girl plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 5pm until February 16, 2019 at the Sherry Theatre 11052 Magnolia Blvd (west of Lankershim) North Hollywood CA 91601.

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