LOS ANGELES-There is no winner when it comes to war. War is nothing but a lose-lose proposition for everyone involved. Countries are divided against one another. Lives of young soldiers are abruptly cut short. Families are permanently left behind with memories of their loved ones. The stench of catastrophic results permeates the souls of the living. The aftermath of war does not discriminate against age, ethnic background or religion. It haunts all involved.
“Year of the Rabbit,” playing through the end of the month at the Atwater Theatre in Los Angeles, artfully and craftily hammers this point home in this riveting stage production.
With a backdrop encompassing the Vietnam War and intertwining in and out with the current state of affairs in with the Afghanistan War, “Year of the Rabbit” is an in-depth and vivid examination of several families dealing with heartbreak of man’s deadliest spectacle.
“The cost of war is very personal, and it continues for generations,” said Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA artistic director Gates McFadden. “One of war’s most damaging legacies is the passing on of unhealed and emotional wounds to the next generation. Parents whose children die as fighters or as children and children left to grow up without their parents.”
Beginning with Lieu (played exceptionally by actress Elyse Dinh), a caseworker and journalist who operate as the play’s storyteller, you are sucked into the drama from the outset. Lt. Kara Bridges (Ashanti Brown) and Lt. Bruce Skinner (Will McFadden), a U.S. fighter pilot and flying partner, allow themselves to get caught up in a web of loneliness, lust and love as they patrol the skies of Vietnam, therefore causing both soldiers to blindly compromise their judgment in their work orders.
Thus, tragedy strikes soon in the dramatic stage play. Lt. Bridges, somewhat misguided by her fleshly desires for Lt. Skinner, fails to alert the ace fighter pilot of a wedding party they are about to blow up that the chain of command believes to be enemy combatants.
Trusting Lt. Bridges on this particular air raid mission, Lt. Skinner obliterates the mass contingent of people gathered for was supposed be a joyous occasion.
Upon finding out that it was innocent civilians he had murdered and not the enemy soldiers, Lt. Skinner then takes his own life by taking his aircraft and turning it into a massive ball of flames as he crashes it, effectively wrecking the lives of two families. And just like that Lt. Bridges’ life has been turned upside down.
The heartache of losing her lover is compounded by the fact that now Lt. Bridges faces stern questioning from high-ranking officials about her actions as a soldier. Soon she has to answer to her military father, Gen. JC Bridges (Meshach Taylor) and deal with the wrath of Admiral Spence Skinner (Peter Mackenzie), Lt. Skinner’s dad.
Brown does a wonderful job at parlaying to the complex layers of emotions her character-Lt. Bridges- unveils as she tries to sort out her once routine life that has now become a ribbon of uncertainty. More drama follows Lt. Bridges as she learns she has become impregnated by Lt. Skinner during one impulsive night of lover’s rendezvous.
This fact sends Lt. Bridges into a state of depression as she contemplates what will become of her future, and sends her father into a fury stupor when she is finally able to work up the courage to tell him.
The play takes a powerful turn when Lt. Skinner’s parents enter their own world of regret and involuntary remorsefulness over their son’s untimely death. There is anger. Helpless sadness overwhelms Lt. Skinner’s mother, Allie Skinner (Keliher Walsh) as it brings resolute contempt from his dad. Part of the unfolding tragic set of events is how Lt. Bridges wrestles with sharing her pregnancy with Lt. Skinner’s mother and father.
Lt. Bridges is a woman torn at the fabric of what the complications of war can bring on individuals as well as the impact it has on their families. The emotional wounds of engaging in life or death battle are even more complex as the characters in “Year of the Rabbit” are justifiably able to display.
The real-life husband and wife team of Walsh and play director James Eckhouse brings “Year of the Rabbit” alive with splendid candor and vision, leaving the audience with a dynamic visual of the ugly side of war. Taylor, who starred in the long-running hit sitcom, “Designing Women,” lends an understated yet strong presence as Lt. Bridges’ by-the-book father.
With a solid cast playing exceptionally well off of each other, “Year of the Rabbit” makes you think hard and long about the consequences of war and its generation-long ramifications. In a nutshell, “Year of the Rabbit” is a well-told story and is simply what good theater is all about.
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, MLB, racial and social justice, civil rights, and HBCUs. Dennis earned a journalism degree from “The Mecca” aka Howard University. “I write on what I am passionate about.”