Completely compelling, Re:Union pulls you into a little known story about a well known topic — the Vietnam War. The play, produced by Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Theatre, is a captivating journey of discovery and truth. In October of 2001, Emily Morrison (Alexa Devine) travels to Washington, DC to confront Robert McNamara (Andrew Wheeler), US Secretary of Defence, about an act of protest committed by her father, Norman Morrison (Brad Long), at the peak of the Vietnam War. Topics of martyrdom, conscience, faith, and reason are discussed as characters weave in and out of time, using projections and live video, adding to the visual experience.
Playwright and director Sean Devine, in this remounted production for Magnetic North (originally directed by John Langs), effortlessly weaves together a semi-fictionalized narrative that shifts between the 1960s and the buildup to the War on Terror. Morrison, a Quaker living in Baltimore, hears of an attack on a Vietnamese village that results in the deaths of many innocents. Disturbed by this news, he sets out to find inspiration from God in silence. In an act that surpasses reason, Norman and his one-year-old daughter Emily travel to Washington, DC, and Norman sets himself on fire in front of McNamara’s office at the Pentagon. Thirty-six years later, Emily, now married with children, tries to coerce McNamara into participating in her own act of terrorism, but her plans go awry when she is dealt a great truth about her role in her father’s death.
The impressive set, designed by John Webber, is made up of rectangular panels that serve as projection screens for live and recorded video, which provide atmosphere while situating and advancing the action. A plinth is located centre stage that serves as desk, projector, and counter. The elements of technology incorporated into this production are clever, without being too ostentatious or drawing away from the acting.
Long is at once endearing and thought provoking, raising great sympathy as the audience watches his spiritual and emotional struggle. Wheeler delivers a deeply engaging performance as McNamara, nailing the voice and physicality of this man, creating a great dynamic between him and Alexa Devine’s bold and raw performance as Emily. The tense scenes between them are broken up by Long, as Morrison, offering lectures to the audience (the real-life Morrison was a teacher) about the parable of Isaac and Abraham, using arguments from Kierkegaard to dissect its meaning. This creates a lovely ebb and flow of action and suspense while maintaining a solid relationship between the two time periods.
Re:Union certainly falls under Magnetic North’s tagline of “Radical lessons for a meaningful life”: There are lessons to be learned from this piece. Offering a Canadian approach to an American story, Re:Union is not biased towards any one viewpoint. Whether or not this has potential to tour depends on how audiences may react to Canadians telling an American story.
Written and Directed by Sean Devine
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Theatre
By Hilary Peck