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Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter

by Julie Marie Myatt

COMPANY : Synchronicity Performance Group [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 3158

SHOWING : September 12, 2008 - October 12, 2008



Jenny Sutter is coming home from Iraq. But she can go, she must first put to rest a few ghosts. In the meantime, the eccentrics squatting in Slab City due what they can to remind her about what America is all about.

Set and Lighting Design Jessica Coale
Master Electrician Marie Dunn
Sound Design Mimi Epstein
Production Manager Nina Gooch
Technical Director Robert Hadaway
Props Design Corrie Haislip
ASM Tara Helrich
Stage Manager Maggie McEnerny
Costume Designer Elizabeth Rasmusson
Cheryl Lynne Ashe
Lou Dori Garziano
Buddy Allen Hagler
Donald David Howard
Hugo J. Joe Sykes
Jenny Sutter Andrea Washington
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by Dedalus
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Andrea Washington’s Jenny Sutter is coming home from Iraq. Ms. Washington has a long and haunted face, a prosthetic leg, and a no-nonsense ex-Marine’s attitude, that screams “Leave me alone so I can work through my guilt.” She also has a penchant for attracting eccentrics, for growing close to lost souls like herself, and for avoiding the emotional trauma that is standing between Iraq and home.

As embodied in Synchronicity’s wonderful production, Julie Marie Myatt’s “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter” is a moving and funny paean to survival, to eccentricity, and to finding the bonds that can build a roadmap from the depths of atrocity-filled horror and guilt. We, who live safe and secure from the darkest extremes of human nature, can never know this darkness, can never truly acknowledge the bravery and effort it takes to pull out of it, can only sit and sputter our literary complaints and bogus theatrical opinions.

Indeed, although this play is infinitely better than the last Myatt play mounted by Synchronicity (2005’s “Sex Habits of American Women”), it still can be deconstructed as predictable with its expected moment of revelation suitably grim. How bad does an atrocity have to be to raise it from the level of cliché to that of dramatic (and theatrical) truth? The particular experiences lived by Jenny Sutter can be said to be based more on a playwright’s research than by an actual experience. The eccentricities on display are, again, more a playwright’s construct than the result of observed human behavior.

But, drifting through it all, still haunting me now, is the thought of Ms. Washington’s hauntingly beautiful, beautifully haunted face. Drifting through it all is the true-to-life performances of the supporting cast, who give this roster of eccentrics a believability I suspect I would have sneered at in the written script.

The first to meet (and welcome) Jenny Sutter is Hugo, a night-shift bus station employee perfectly realized by Joe Sykes. Earlier this year, in another play, I wrote Mr. Sykes off as a “bland and pretty-boy actor in a bland and pretty-boy role.” After seeing what he can do here, I am haunted by those words and wish I could take them back. He is funny and believable, his character sharply detailed. At one point, he even makes me laugh by literally sleeping through a scene. His good looks are here mitigated by his level of conviction, by the truly visible thought-processes we see going across his eyes.

Next on the scene is Lou (Dori Garziano), a reformed addict of, well, everything, whose open heart is what does the “heavy lifting” of bringing Jenny back. If Lou treats her loved ones as so much fodder for the rehab mill, her heart is open and large enough to forgive her, as those who love her invariably must. Lou takes Jenny home to the “Slabs,” an abandoned military complex taken over by R-V squatters and tin-shack outcasts.

Also on hand are Allen Hagler’s wounded Buddy, Lynne Ashe’s Cheryl who hides an essentially Yenta nature beneath the guise of providing emotional counseling, and David Howard who has trouble putting a sentence together, holding a coherent thought, or acknowledging the emotions that play on his face like a large-type book.

But, again, it is Ms. Washington’s Jenny Sutter we’re here to see, to welcome. Mostly silent, bearing her secrets, her guilt as only a Marine can, she is constantly watchable, constantly compelling. We want to welcome her home, we want to ease her burden, and we acknowledge HER need to keep it quiet, to herself.

For such a somber and thoughtful piece, this play is actually filled with joy and laughter, and is a pleasure to experience. Scenes flow smoothly and quickly, sets are changed by the cast with song and industry, and moments of mood are perfectly realized and effective. I’ve come to anticipate Director Rachel May’s work, which seems to get better and more confident and truer with each passing year. She can draw out amazing performances and has a total sense of the play that is reflected in the work of her designers and her casts. I literally cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next.

While the analytical part of me can take Ms. Myatt’s structure and plotting to task, I cannot fault her dialogue. These are well-constructed lines, revealing character and nuance and humor. This is dialogue so character-specific, you couldn't imagine it in the mouths of the “wrong” characters. And this cast brings them to life ways that mask any plotting “seams” until long after the affect of the play has worn off (if it ever does).

Yes, I can glibly say I'm haunted by the harsh words I've written about Ms. Myatt’s earlier work and about Mr. Sykes’ earlier performance. I can even say I'm haunted by the atrocity Jenny Sutter has to find her way past. But I can never say, nor can I ever match, the experience and truth behind the haunting face of Andrea Washington, behind the emotional honesty she brings to Jenny Sutter.

This is a performance, a production, that is, to me, the most welcome sign of the new Theatrical Season. I sincerely hope you welcome it into your play-going schedule.

-- Brad Rudy (



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