We should applaud a play that takes institutional misogyny as its subject. But such shows occupy an awkward position: The people who most need to watch them would never be receptive to the message. Soldier's Heart, by Pittsburgh-based playwright Tammy Ryan, treads this difficult path.
Soldier's Heart is about a woman named Casey who leaves her son, his father and her mother to go on military duty in Iraq. When she returns, she is changed, and much of the play is spent unraveling just what happened to her, and what created the atmosphere that allowed it to happen.
Casey, portrayed by Marie Elena O'Brien, is on stage for almost the entirety of the show at a constant emotional 11. This character is a highlight of the play.
This Pittsburgh Playhouse REP production involves many talented people, especially set-designer Gianni Downs, whose work cleverly facilitates numerous scenes with minimal alteration, from a living room to a Marine barracks.
The show also uses a video projector, which I suspect the book did not originally call for. At times it is used cleverly — to emulate a television, to illustrate a setting. But, just as frequently, it portrays Casey's mental state, a task which O'Brien alone handles much more tastefully. We go to the theater to see acting, not to watch as technology throws foreshadowing in our faces.
The soundtrack appears in rare bursts, at times overpowering dialogue with a generic guitar piece that mockingly screams "Oorah!" and later with a melancholy piano that interrupts a perfectly well-realized moment of apotheosis. The scene is already effective — introducing sad music is one step from lighting a sign demanding the audience cry.
Perhaps the show's AV was thought necessary to communicate with those who dismiss the idea of rape culture, or who might be unsympathetic to survivors' narratives. To me, it feels like director John Amplas did not have enough faith in this play to let his strong actors and solid script breathe on their own. All that aside, this is still absolutely a play worth seeing.