At the conclusion of this play, Howard Petrick, writer, subject and actor of the play Breaking Rank, delivered a fairly impassioned plea for people to become more aware of Private Bradley Manning and the punishments he is facing as a result of his role in the WikiLeaks scandal. When we were leaving the theatre, the person I was watching the play with commented to the effect that Petrick’s request showed far more emotion than the play did.
That comment, to me, pretty much summed up the play. The story, which is autobiographical, tells of Petrick’s own attempts to question the purpose of the Vietnam war, while serving as a soldier at Fort Hood.
The set, like so many at the Fringe is sparse with just a foot locker, table and chair. and the contents of a duffel bag as props. These props serve quite well to depict the many physical spaces of the base where Petrick is stationed, as well as some of the outside places he visits.
Petrick takes on the roles of several characters and imbues them all with their own slightly distinctive traits. He does very well in making subtle physical and vocal changes that allow you to separate one character from the next. Unfortunately while the verbal content is varied, the emotional content all seems to be delivered in monotone. Although, to give Petrick the benefit of the doubt I may have been spoiled in the last few days by having hit upon several shows that featured story tellers of a very high order.
There were quite a few laughs thrown in throughout the play. Although, the comment about the little girl from Winnipeg knitting him a scarf to wear during July in Texas, felt a little condescending even if an actual event.
However, my main disappointment with the play is that it had a certain, who cares atmosphere around it. For an autobiographical play, I found it oddly lacking in humanity. Petrick does provide some commentary on the circumstances of the Vietnam War, and makes one or two slight references to similar situations to day there is nothing in the play that would significantly challenge anyone to rethink their view of places such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. They used to say that M*A*S*H wasn’t about the Korean war, but about Vietnam. Breaking Rank feels like it is using the Vietnam War to talk about the Vietnam War.
In part this stems from the explanatory narratives in between the set pieces that involve Petrick challenging the system. These narratives are too frequent and make it feel that we are watching a play that is being work shopped rather than a finished piece. In addition, Petrick himself seemed quite tired on stage, as if perhaps the Fringe circuit had taken its toll on him.
As we get down to the last few days of the Fringe Festival, I would say that Breaking Rank is still worth going to see, but if it’s not high on your list of plays, don’t alter your schedule to catch it.