Taken from interviews with individuals in the US Army’s Female Engagement Team, this one-woman show raises important questions, offering very few answers whilst telling an unknown story. It hardly made for an easy (hour-long) watch, but such is the nature of working with challenging material. Sadly the content proved too demanding for the actress. She over acted and stumbled through the play, talking too quickly and gesticulating madly. Thus the small audience felt awkward at times, bearing witness to a fascinating tale told, unfortunately, through a vehicle of incompetence.
Perhaps I am being too tough on the actress, as she did after all make a convincing soldier. The direction seemed strange though; at one moment she was acting entirely naturally and the next she erupted into a fanatical physical dance routine of putting on her uniform and saluting. This could have worked with a large coordinated ensemble, but done solo it felt jarring and entirely unnecessary in such a personal story telling environment.
The piece tells the audience, rather than showing them, the story. The actress delivered her performance predominately speaking to a blank wall, which entirely disengaged the audience. Another irritation of this staging was the screening, presumably of fascinating footage clips from her mission in Afghanistan, that were impossible for me to see. The set is chilling and effective, with the three bodiless army uniforms hanging from balloons serving to represent the real women who gave their stories. This being said, the poor staging also, unfortunately, obstructs them.
Direction and acting aside, the story is at one moment devastating and at another uplifting. The female unit in question was the first of its kind, tasked with everything from searching under burqas for hidden men, to teaching women about sanitary products. The parallel drawn between the treatment of Afghani women by the Taliban and the treatment of new female colleagues by male US soldiers was revealing. It brought into question many perceived ideas about the US Army and the Afghan War, placing an important emphasis on the subsequent effects of the war on the retired soldiers.
The message, however, was not enough to sustain this conceptually poor fringe show, which before it can do its material justice.