YOU ONLY DIE ONCE
One of the great pick-up lines that soldiers and sailors on leave during World War II (and probably the Trojan War too) used to seduce a one-night standee was, “Let’s do it – I could be dead in a month.” Chicago playwright Mark Mason’s sardonic Allotment Annie gives this plea a dark and ugly meaning: It depicts a disturbed bartender who uses the war to get away with murder. Bridgette Harney’s peculiarly peppy staging mixes up the malevolence with Lindy Hop and Jitterbug dance sequences, as if to turn nostalgia into a very pretty poison.
The setting is the Victory Canteen, a G.I. “R&R” retreat in out-of-the-way Poughkeepsie, New York in the spring of 1944 just before D-Day. It’s run by goodtime girl Virginia (Amy Rapp), a horny blonde hostess who’s altogether too hospitable: She has married and then lost several G.I. Joes, and even took two at the same time. This husband-hunter is wrongly termed an “Allotment Annie,” supposedly marrying for a steady income, but in fact Virginia does it for love.
More importantly, Virginia has employed as her bartender chum the mysterious and dangerous Fran (Kate Black-Spence), formerly of the notoriously dry town of Wheaton, Illinois and making up for lost time. Fran hooks up with another Illinois exile, Joe (Carol Lindberg), a diffident, good-looking Air Force pilot with a bad heart (literally) whose war experience has made him come to prefer wild over mild. He hatches a scam as incomprehensible as it is implausible: Trusting Joe will scheme with and marry Fran as they siphon off war monies appropriated to manufacture landing craft in Seneca, Illinois, with the help of a clueless general who unwittingly authorizes the fraud.
But Fran, whose desperate search for security and sociopathic proclivities Joe can’t or won’t see, is unwilling to wait for her share of the Defense Department rip-off. Sometimes ships don’t just pass in the night – they sometimes sink. Tragedy ensues.
Unfortunately, it’s a very unenlightening tragedy, given the playwright’s casual or missing explanations for Fran’s evil, Joe’s credulity, and Virginia’s enabling. There’s no particular point to this play, let alone payoff. The world of war, Mason implies, makes life cheap – but the opposite could easily be argued: So much death only makes life seem rare and precious. (Much emphasis here is put on a training disaster in preparation for the invasion of Normandy, where almost 900 soldiers died, the losses not announced until they could be disguised as casualties of D-Day. It’s interesting – and irrelevant.)
Not much really matters in this buzz-kill tribute to the girls in blouses who betrayed the boys in blue. Even the music is half-hearted, with too many songs sung in a boring a cappella and too many dances that feel more improvised than choreographed.
photos by Tom McGrath
InFusion Theatre Company production at Strawdog Theater
scheduled to end on February 3, 2013
for tickets, call 773.528.9696 or by visit http://www.infusiontheatre.com
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