Because 21st-century American cultural ideals and expectations have turned sharply away from self-reliance, duty, patriotism, and the nuclear family, contemporary theater that approaches such ideas without disdain risks seeming dated. But “Hounds of War”, written by Bill Holland, neither reveres nor condescends to its subject matter or characters. Instead, the play offers a mostly matter-of-fact portrait of a family in transition (a “fresh start” in a new country home for the midlife parents, enlistment in the Army for one son, and the improbable return to college for the other).
The entire 90-minute play is set in the rustic living room of the house that Jim (Christopher LaPanta) has bought, furnished, and decorated for himself and his reluctant, city-missing wife, Mary (Margaret Curry). The day the couple move in, their young-adult children come for a visit: Larry (Justin Hofstad) has just returned from basic training, and Robert (Patrick Massey) is on break from school. Skippy, the family dog, goes missing, and new neighbor Henry (Tony Head), explains about the mysterious “big as ponies” wild dogs that can be heard howling outside.
Holland succeeds in writing realistically about a marriage. The relationship between husband and wife is mercurial; there is no linear progression from love to hate or from disappointment to resignation. He also succeeds in carefully building his story to full construction, although many habits, attitudes, secrets, and outcomes of the characters are clichéd and obvious. With the exception of an out-of-place "man as animal" metaphor, the play tends towards the literal, and its characters are atypically ready to disclose the truth.
Wee Man’s production of “Hounds of War” charms not only because its storytelling is earnest but also because it’s smartly collaborative. Every actor adds nuance to his or her role. Director Mark Cirnigliaro, set designer Bethanie Wampol Watson, lighting designer Jeff Carr, and sound designer Matt Bittner use the constraints of the theater space to create an intimate viewing experience: The audience sits closely enough to hear bare feet slap across a wood floor, in a stifling living room far away from New York City.
Through April 5 at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre