“Yesterday Iran/Today Iraq” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (Closed July 26, 2013)

By L. S. Goldberg
Directed by Rebecca Etzine
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

War is a damn ugly business and it is no respecter of time, space, civilians, or soldiers. War “breeds strange circumstances.” “Yesterday Iran/Today Iraq” is a short by powerful look at these circumstances as Pvt. Steven “Stippy” Goodman, on the eve of his deployment to Iraq, finds a shoebox full of his grandfather’s World War II V-Mail which he sent to Stippy’s grandmother Belle. Young Pvt. Goodman is fresh out of Basic and Specialized Training and ready to serve, ready to obey orders, ready to make “kills.” Stippy has ingested and digested all the Army has taught him about the glory of war and the invincibility of the United States Armed Services.

As he reads the letters, Stippy’s grandfather appears and begins a dialogue with his grandson as Lt. Chester A. Goodman. Playwright L. S. Goldberg handles this collapsing of time with great skill and is not at all afraid to have these two characters from two different time periods interacting, even exchanging items. As they “converse,” the audience discovers Stippy’s disregard for his grandfather’s service and for his grandfather’s army’s lack of sophistication and “technology.” The young Goodman’s arrogance is counterpointed by the elder’s humility and their beyond space and time relationship is a wonderful trope (extended metaphor) for intergenerational conflicts and differences in world views.

The audience knows from the play’s beginning that Stippy will die in Iraq; however, that does not lessen the importance of the conflict between the two Goodmans and the plot that it generates. The scene depicting Stippy’s experience in Iraq is powerful but somehow redundant. Ms. Goldberg’s writing is so precise and so rich the audience already “knows” how this scene will play. When Stippy’s grandfather enters in real time, holding the handwritten latter his grandson wrote before he was killed in action, all of the “circumstances” of war become crystal clear.

Ms. Goldberg’s impressive writing is equaled only by the performances of Andrew Hutcheson and Blake Williams who, under Rebecca Etzine’s thoughtful direction, use their craft and generosity to enliven their characters and embody their conflicts in impassioned and touching ways. War is an ugly business and anyone who thought otherwise before seeing “Yesterday Iran/Today Iraq” will certainly have a change of heart. This critic hopes this play will enjoy a longer run in the NYC area soon.