Another warning--I am going to pontificate a lot here, shocking I know.
Junk Girls is a full-length (or, maybe long one act at 80 minutes) play dealing war, death, and love. That honestly oversimplifies a lot. The various characters entwine over the fact so many have connections with the then-current war in Iraq (the play is set in 2007), and one way or another nearly all connect with a young woman who is a U.S. Army casualty notifications officer. That job is exactly what it sound like. She has to go and tell loved ones in person their son, daughter, spouse, sibling, etc. has died. In person. This CNO has been saddled with an army photographer and a freelance journalist to "record" and of course publicize this process--a fact she finds appalling and thoughtless, and then of course the way the journalist especially shows an attitude of nothing matters, everything is a joke only makes her feel this more. An added twist--the journalist and her have been friends.
Other twists include the journalist was just in Iraq, met a soldier there and fell in love, but doesn't want to admit it.
With all this are a lot of almost-dream-sequences, with the officer apologizing to the dead, and at one time three couples in effect march into formation to have a dance. A phone call from Iraq, mid-combat, bleeds in terms of action into the scene where the person receiving the call is doing something else.
You can tell there's a "but" coming, perhaps? There is. This script skims over a lot, with plenty of scenes we actually need simply not present. Characters bond off stage, go through traumas off stage (sometimes with barely the tiniest hint of what those trauma are), and frankly at a pace that left me confused--which is odd. Not to be immodest, I generally follow things better than most. It seems this script leaves all the really heavy-lifting to be done by the cast, which is selfish, depending on an emotional punch delivered by iconography rather than interaction.
There's another problem. I was initially a bit startled at what seemed like a group of clearly talented actors, given the task of so much effort by the nature of the script, who weren't pulling that weight. Flashes of chemistry between several sets of couples, nothing more. At least two thirds of the cast literally show no emotional change from beginning to end. Yet the talent remained visible, there on stage.
Here is what the notice about the play says: This show has a mix-and-match variable cast with each show being fresh and different. In other words, most of the cast never ever got enough time with any single character to find that character. No wonder the chemistry was off! No wonder so many of the cast seemed to play attitude and general emotions instead of specific desires and attempts to achieve them! That process needs time, and not only did they not get it, their attentions were dispersed over several different characters instead of one. Yeah, this kind of thing can work to switch a set of characters, and with enough rehearsal (switching up Iago and Othello is something of a tradition, for example) it can work very well. But not only in this case did a genuinely talented cast give a weirdly inconsistent set of performances, I have zero notion as to what the remaining performance will be like. How can I? I literally have no way of knowing. So what good can this review be, since the only certainty about the performances I can give is that you won't see the one I saw.
A shame. This is a play that deals with strong, fundamental issues of love and desire, regret and longing, trauma and courage. It focuses on the little-thought-on corners of a powerful historical event, and on the individual passions involved. All these deserve a lot of praise.
This show has one further performance as of this writing, Saturday August 28, 5:30pm at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue.