The Brutes tells the story of war's losers

Robie Hayek takes a load off
Eric Melzer

They say history is written by the winners, but what of the losers? What of the people and lands and countries ground down by the forces of war and history?

In Theatre Forever's latest piece, we meet a tiny band of folks most definitely on the losing side. Their numbers have been reduced to half a dozen, and the entire width and breadth of their once-beloved Constantine is maybe 100 square feet.

Their country's larder is bare, the citizens demoralized to the point of catatonia, but still they cling to the dream: that someone from the "outside" world will notice their plight and save them, that they will be able to preserve their stories and way of life.

It's not an easy show, and the difficulty is built into the very DNA of the piece. Created by the innovative Jon Ferguson and the company of performers — along with text by playwright Dominic Orlando and music by Tim Cameron — The Brutes mixes the senselessness and brutality of war.

Even the location is harsh. The venue — a disused machine shop — has a distinct vibe, as does the harsh stage lighting, built heavily on found elements and simple white light. Still, it's not all heavy-duty. There are plenty of touches of the absurd that add a layer of humor — very black, of course — to the proceedings.

With their costumes and actions, the seven characters give us a sense of where were before they arrived at this tiny bunker. The mixture of military fatigues, track suits, and an absolutely decayed and distressed business suit indicates that these people likely didn't know each other before they became the last bastion of their country.

The company members, including Miriam Schwartz, Robie Hayek, Dario Tangleson, Mitchell Seymour, Charlotte Calvert, and Allison Witham, bring out their characters with minimal fuss. We get a sense of who they are, and that much of their personalities have been worn away by the years of fighting, flight, and finally resignation to the end of their way of life.

Six of the characters are residents of Constantine. The seventh is a visitor who has been with the group for four years, found after one of the frequent explosions. Her name is Jennifer (Susanna Stahlmann), and she is the most dead-eyed of all of them. She can't remember where she's from, but she knows it was a better place. We get a few clues from her dress — especially the backpack — that indicate Jennifer was likely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Schwartz and Tangleson do double duty in the play, not only playing their Constantine characters but the leaders of the two factions fighting for the last scrap of land: General Anastasia and General Leopold. They arrive not so much as military honchos but the worst schoolyard bullies you've ever met, albeit ones who've moved far beyond the dreaded titty-twister into the realm of car-battery-charged electric shock torture.

While much of the story is told in the physical work by the actors, Orlando's script adds layers, many centering on the past and legends of Constantine. These stories bring out a people who've built their world on myths, legends, and dreams. Beautiful, yes, but far too gentle to survive in a world run by the brutes.

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