ANOTHER AMERICAN: ASKING AND TELLING
Seattle Center, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 443-2222, $10-$44 7:30 p.m. Tues.-Sun.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun. ends Fri., Oct. 26
NOW THAT the American military has so graciously, and so very temporarily, lifted its ban on gays and lesbians in the military, Marc Wolf's impassioned solo show about the tragic offensiveness of the government's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy feels more vital than it might otherwise. Another American: Asking and Telling, which opened last week on the Seattle Repertory Theatre's second stage, is newly important given this latest context of hypocrisy, and it should be seen—even if the whole is a bit less than the sum of its frequently stirring parts.
Wolf spent three years interviewing members of the Armed Forces—men and women of both sexual persuasions—and he re-enacts the troubled monologues of those disparate voices ᠬa Anna Deveare Smith (whose searing Rodney King exploration, Twilight: Los Angeles, is the benchmark for this type of performance). The subjects cover the spectrum, from a straight soldier's claim that the presence of gays will be "interrupting that spirit" of a unit's protective swagger to a mother's agonized recollection of the appalling death-by-beating suffered by her gay serviceman son (she had to roll up his sleeve and find his tattoo before she could positively identify the body).
The individual stories are wrenching, yet they don't combine to upset you in the manner they should. Instead, they remain complete lessons within themselves, informed, if occasionally pedantic, stories shaped to put across one idea. Wolf and director Joe Mantello have exercised some theatrical license with the interviews and polished them to such a degree that you can admire their pain without reflecting too deeply on it. Wolf sometimes overdoes a dramatic gesture and has his subjects catch themselves in epiphanies as people rarely do in real life; he stops for a second to register the internal "Ah!" that might be more effective were we to stumble across it ourselves.
Wolf does, however, have a rich, handsome voice that communicates honest emotion. His portrayal of women here is affected and unconvincing— unless he's met some very queeny dykes in his travels. But when he burrows through the anger these people feel to find the fear and suffering that has fueled it, the show takes off. His empathetic passion is notable and connects you to the forthright concerns of his subjects. At its best, Asking and Telling reminds you what people have given up in order to be who they are.