“9 Circles” at Gloucester Stage Company


War is hell, and in Bill Cain’s “9 Circles,” Iraq War veteran Private Daniel Reeves must descend through his own inferno in order to arrive at his only shot at redemption. But are all of the demons he encounters in this hell of his own making? That’s the question that he – and the audience – face in this raw and mesmerizing production at the Gloucester Stage Company through August 26, 2012.

This is the same cast and the same director (Eric C. Engle) that staged 9 circles in its critically acclaimed east coast premiere last year at the Publick Theatre in Boston. If you missed it the first time around, you should grab this second chance.

A fatherless and rudderless Texas tough with a record, Reeves (played by Jimi Stanton) is given a choice: the Army or jail. For the Army, accepting Reeves involves a morals waiver and ignoring the fact that he’s clearly a disturbed individual: he is incapable of feeling empathy for anyone. Killing doesn’t bother him.

When he finds himself in jail charged with horrible atrocities – slaughtering an Iraqi family in their home and then raping and killing their 14 year-old daughter, he encounters a series of public defenders, army lawyers, clergymen and shrinks (all played with steadfast proficiency by Will McGarrahan and Amanda Collins). Everyone, it seems, has a use for Reeves. His platoon mates agree to testify against him in exchange for reductions in their own sentences. The lawyers and clergymen think his actions can be used to force an end to the war.

The play is about Reeves’ struggle to come to grips with what happened. Before the atrocity, his sergeant had died in his arms, the victim of being too trusting while manning a checkpoint. The sergeant had been a father figure to Reeves. Had he actually felt something as he watched the sergeant die?

Reeves seems to have two settings: intense and explosive. In a gripping performance, Stanton manages to pull off Reeves’ menacing anger while at the same time giving us a window into how he got this way.

Days before the atrocities, Reeves goes to see an army psychiatrist and tells her that he fears he will do something terrible. “I want to kill everyone,” he admits. But she merely warns him that such admissions could get him tossed out of the army and sends him away with some medication.

Cain has said that 9 Circles is not an anti-war play, but rather the chronicle of one man’s journey to self-awareness set against the backdrop of war. Still, the play does raise many of the contradictions and questions surrounding war in general and the Iraq war in particular. The subjects of oxymorons and euphemisms come up repeatedly as Reeves and others attempt to comprehend everything that has occurred. The play also raises the eternal question when it comes to US intervention in the Middle East: are we there because they want to kill us, or do they want to kill us because we are there?

Reeves may have murdered the Iraqi family out of anger over the sergeant’s death. But he later learns that several innocent American soldiers were beheaded, possibly in retaliation for his his own acts. And in this lethal circular logic, is Reeves alone responsible for his actions and their repercussions? Or do we, who sent this damaged individual over there, share the blame?

John Malinowski’s eloquently understated set, a raised circle in front of dimly lit lockers, allows the focus to remain where it belongs: on these characters and the dialog.

Don’t get the idea 9 Circles is entirely grim. Thankfully (for their sake and ours), Cain permits his characters to find a good measure of humor amid the horror.

Private Reeves’ hatred of the enemy leads him to do things most soldiers would never do. Ultimately, he must find a way to reconcile with the most formidable enemy of all: the enemy within.

“9 Circles” runs through August 26 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, MA. Performances are Wednesday August 22 through Saturday, August 25 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, August 25 matinee at 3 p.m.; and Sunday, August 26 at 4 p.m. For tickets visit the Gloucester Stage Company online or phone 978-281-4433.

[9 CIRCLES by Bill Cain. Directed by Eric C. Engel. Featuring Amanda Collins, Will McGarrahan and Jimi Stanton. Set/Lighting Design John Malinowski. Costume Design: Gail Astrid Buckley. Composer/Sound Design, Dewey Dellay. Production Stage Manager, Marsha Smith.]

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One Response to ““9 Circles” at Gloucester Stage Company”

  1. 1 ‘Crimes of the Heart’ at Gloucester Stage Company « Mark Sardella

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