When Pittsburgher Sam Hazo writes anything, it's important we all listen up. Stepping away from his comfort zone — poetry — the venerable man of letters has written the play Tell It to the Marines, directed by Rich Keitel and featuring a cast of local heavyweights.
The complete title is Tell It to the Marines: A Play for the Time at Hand. But that's a bit of a misnomer. Not only is it set in 2007, it's ruthlessly focused on 2007 issues, specifically the Iraq war.
We're eavesdropping on the Killeen family. Leo, the father, is a Marine veteran and his sons have seen combat in Iraq: Andy is home, suffering from PTSD, while Steve is finishing his last tour. And it wouldn't be theater if there weren't bad news ahead. The play chronicles Leo and his wife, Edna, as they re-examine long-held beliefs.
Think of Tell It to the Marines as the anti-American Sniper. Where that film doesn't bother too much with the war's origins or context, Hazo has a lot to say about both.
I salute not only Hazo's passion, but his anger as well. The Iraq war was not inevitable and not just, and Hazo's aim to hold accountable the political leaders who drove us into war is nothing less than patriotism at its finest.
I do wonder, though, whether the kind of play he's written — almost kitchen-sink realism — is the right vehicle. The characters are really mouthpieces for the writer, and sometimes feel more like points of view than people. And often, for reasons of exposition, one character ends up telling another information known to both. I think there's an interesting idea here for a theatrical piece (perhaps a full-length monologue of the father's emotional journey), but right now Hazo hasn't quite cracked it.
There can be no doubt, however, he'll never see this play done better than in this strong, lucid production directed with enormous intelligence by Keitel. Across the board, the cast does amazing work animating this script; Jeff Howell, Maura Minteer, Justin Fortunato, Daina M. Griffith, David Crawford and Tal Kroser are just about everything a hopeful playwright (and audience) could wish for.