by Ben Ellentuck
I must admit: going to see Safe Home I was not particularly optimistic. A family drama set in the 1950s about a son going off and dying in the Korean War does not strike me (I can only speak for myself here, though I suspect I am not alone) as making for an “enjoyable” theater experience. Perhaps the play would be weighed down with facts? Or politics? Fortunately it was neither of these things. In the end, however, the premise seemed to get the best of it.
The son is a 19-year-old version of the person who would have grown up to be the playwright’s uncle; the piece was inspired by one of his “shockingly poignant” letters “from a cold and lonely outpost in Korea” (I’m quoting the Playwright’s Note on the first page of my program, if you’re curious). It chronicles the lives of his family—him, his two teenage brothers, his stressed mother and burnt-out father—jumping back and forth between the time before he left for Korea (1951) and the time after his death (1953). His enlistment tears the family apart only to bring them back together again, and his death brings the family back together only to tear them apart once more. Of course, the boy has a romantic interest, and in the end we see that even in the face of death love conquers all (awww…). (Not to marginalize the romance per se—the actress who plays the romantic interest, Claire, brings an interesting 21st century take to the role; I almost wished we saw more of her—but it is just that: the “old-fashioned” token teen romance in the family drama.)
In the end, the play just didn’t excite my emotions. There wasn’t anything about it that I found particularly disturbing, or funny, or moving. There wasn’t anything particularly anything: the piece was very nebulous. It certainly wasn’t whimsical; rather, the playwright seemed to be going for something grittier. But the play’s feet weren’t planted firmly enough in the ground for it to be earthy. It seemed to be stuck in a sort of purgatorial blandness that really didn’t excite my interest in any of the characters. I got to know what they were like, but I never felt like I knew who they were. (The exception, perhaps, was Claire, but this seemed to have more to do with the actress’s take on the role than anything else.)
Perhaps the letters from the son really are shockingly poignant. (I do not doubt this, in fact—especially if that son is your would-be uncle.) The playwright, however, seemed to have trouble translating this emotion into something theatrically exciting.
HOW TO SEE THE SHOW: $10 student rush tickets
HOW TO SEE THE SHOW: $10 student rush tickets• Women's Interart Center • 500 West 52 Street • Friday & Saturday at 8PM; Sunday at 5PM; Monday at 7PM