For a little hamlet in the hills, Fayetteville keeps its fair share of professional theater companies. The two-year-old TheatreSquared has stepped it up a notch with an original production. Capping off a polished, if sometimes unimaginative, season for the company, “My Father's War” represents a welcome change of pace.
Written by one of the company's co-founders and starring another, the play uses the recollections of buck Sgt. Arthur Herzberg to examine different interpretations of World War II as seen through the searching eyes of his daughter. If some war veterans remain tight-lipped about their experiences, Herzberg seems to have never stopped talking, filling his daughter's ears with the stories on family car trips and around the dinner table. His recollections all play out like dark jokes, the punch line usually being their author's survival, and you can detect a touch of animosity toward those stoical John Wayne types in their telling. Herzberg claims not to have experienced John Wayne's war. His war was more like a Jerry Lewis picture.
The veteran's son-in-law, Bob Ford, wrote the script after visiting Normandy, where Herzberg had stormed the beach on D-Day before bumbling/surviving through a variety of misadventures all the way to the Battle of the Bulge. In the process, Herzberg earned a purple heart and a bronze star. The playwright knew from the beginning that his play would star Herzberg's daughter — his wife, Amy Herzberg — and that Amy would play the role of her father. Upon visiting the scene of a battle in France to pay tribute to one of her father's more haunting experiences, Amy finds herself donning a green helmet and living out a whole series of her father's stories, some of which she had never heard before.
The cast is typically wonderful, with a heartfelt performance by Herzberg as its center. Three cast members — Jason Engstrom, Justin Scheur and Kris Stoker — play a variety of roles, from captured Germans who willfully misunderstand Herzberg's spotty commands to shit-talking Texans whose courage sneaks up on you. Another member of the cast, Abbey Molyneux, makes a spectral late entrance that you're unlikely to forget. The set design and lighting is beautifully minimal, sparse enough to accommodate the play's many scene changes but iconic enough to register as more than your typical dark wood.
Save an unnecessary nod to the Duke's brand of heroism late in the play, we're left with a real sense of the haplessness of war, and Herzberg's experiences are all the more chilling for their humor. Which is more true, the wind-blown feather of Jerry Lewis or the obstinate Gibraltar of John Wayne? “My Father's War” would be less honest if we weren't always laughing.
The play continues from Thursday through Sunday.