Tuesday, August 12, 2014

5 Star Show at EdFringe: SmallWar by Valentijn Dhaenens

While I didn't know what to expect from the shows at EdFringe, I knew what I was hoping for.  When I went to WorldFest at Venice Theatre earlier this summer, there were two styles of theater that really grabbed me:  multi-media shows (like Argentina's "Our Daily Bread") and theater concerts in which the lyrics of familiar songs are used in unexpected ways (like Danish Black Box Pangea's "POP! )  We got both, along with a heartbreaking story and superb acting, in Valentijn Dhaenens' "SmallWar."

The stage had a screen on it, behind which was a table with a phone and what turned out to be a hospital bed.  As the lights went down, a nurse (Dhaenens) wheeled the bed onto the stage.  It's a short bed--size appropriate for a small child--but all that is needed for this soldier who has lost his arms, legs and ability to speak (but not to think).  The soldier is a projected image of Dhaenens.

The nurse begins to sing the words from Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" in a haunting voice:

There was a boy,
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and seas...."

SmallWar (photo credit to Murdo Macleod for the Guardian)
Over the next hour, the nurse tends to her patient while telling stories--interspersed with song--about former patients she'd worked with.  At one point she tells us about the extent of Dhaenens' injuries.  She sings the words to "Smile Though Your Heart is Breaking."  While created for a different context, they work incredibly well for a nurse dealing with death and devastating injuries:

"Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying..."

Periodically, the phone would ring and a projected image of Dhaenens would rise from the bed and answer it.  (Each image seemed to represent a different soldier.)  We learn about these soldiers' lives and the sacrifices they made by leaving home to go to war.  There are children born who they'll never see and parents lost.  There's a Dear John letter (accompanied by "Are You Lonesome Tonight?")  By the end of the show, the stage is filled with four standing soldiers, the bed-ridden patient and the nurse.
It was a hard play to watch, yet it was also beautiful and creative and incredibly moving.  It was a theatrical experience I will never forget, and the perfect ending to our EdFringe experience.  My rating:  5 stars (unforgettable, creative, I loved it)


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