There’s much to like about Tony Pasqualini’s Loyalties, a modern day war drama that tracks two couples whose sons have enlisted. The story couldn’t be more relevant and the acting in Pacific Resident Theatre’s world premiere production is solid. But too many tragedies get packed into one tiny play and the characters seem perpetually stricken by desperate emotional states. If Pasqualini is willing to add a large dose of subtext and subtract a glaring overabundance of emotionally manipulative exposition, the script has a shot at excellence.
The drama centers on Joy (Robin Becker), Frank (Michael Rothhaar), Andrew (Tony Pasqualini) and Mel (Karen Landry, understudy for Sarah Brooke). The two couples are the parents of Donny, who was killed in combat, and Michael (Albert Meijer), who has gone AWOL after learning of his childhood friend’s death in battle. Joy and Frank find their son’s death noble, and are outraged when they discover that Andrew and Mel are helping Michael stay on the run. Things get ugly when Frank threatens to turn Michael in. The two couples go head to head and violence ensues.
Watching two sets of parents attempt to protect and honor their children is certainly gripping. It’s fairly infuriating to watch a mother and father who have lost their son to war try to bamboozle another mother and father into sacrificing their own son for the cause. Not to mention the fact that Joy and Frank both display signs of serious instability – he carries explosives around, she heads up a volunteer group of mothers who seem endlessly proud about their sons’ war-related deaths.
The character of Joy is utterly steeped in tragedy, because she misses her son but clings to his death as a source of pride. When she begins to view Donny’s death as senseless, she self destructs. Becker does a decent job of playing this deeply conflicted character, but the writing doesn’t allow her to display any subtlety. It’s all wear-it-on-your-sleeve angst that plays as inauthentic.
The other actors all hold their own, but it’s hard to pinpoint a standout performance.
The kernel of a wonderful story is buried in all this melodrama – Pasqualini seems capable of unearthing it with a re-write.
Through March 28 at Pacific Resident Theatre. Call .310.822-8392.