George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick presents American Hero by Christopher Demos-Brown, author of last season’s hit American Son. American Hero is the best, most powerful work George Street has presented in many years, and I urge you to see it.
The second play in a proposed “American” trilogy, American Hero does not go into the motivations for going to war, nor whether it is right or wrong to wage war. The focus instead is on the nature of heroism: how America creates its military heroes; how it views and treats those heroes; and the effect being proclaimed a war hero has on an individual.
American Hero focuses on Rob, a Medal of Honor winner for bravery during the Iraq war. Raising his teenage daughter, Shawn, alone, running his own chain of do-it-yourself hardware stores, ex-Marine Rob is a basically good man leading a comfortable life. Back into his life comes Mary, the Army sniper who saved Rob’s life immediately after the incident that earned him his medal. The one-act play is bookended by two scenes set in Iraq during combat, and jumps back and forth in time, interspersing scenes of the process by which Rob was awarded the Medal of Honor with scenes set in the present.
Director David Saint has done some of the best work of his career with this play. He leads his quartet of actors through this gripping story. Armand Schultz is Rob, wheelchair-bound from his war injuries, vital and active in his community, stern but loving with his daughter. Kally Duling portrays Shawn as a good kid getting ready to enter the Air Force Academy yet with a rebellious side hidden from her father.
John Bolger, last seen at George Street as the father in American Son, plays a multitude of roles, creating a half-dozen individualized characters throughout the play. And then there’s Mary, brought to life by Laiona Michelle in a forceful performance that sears itself into the viewer’s mind. Ms. Michelle is an actress to watch.
Jason Simms’ fluid set design keeps the battlefield of Iraq as a constant background presence throughout the play. Rick Sordelet’s fight direction work, although brief, is attention-grabbing.
George Street Playhouse’s production of American Hero is gripping, powerful, and disturbing. This play may hit too close to home for some audience members, especially those who have developed PTSD from military service. However, it deserves to be seen for tackling the question of what heroism in this country entails. I cannot more strongly encourage you to see American Hero before its run ends.
American Hero is presented by the George Street Playhouse on the Cook College campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick through Feb. 25. For tickets and information, visit GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org.