Local playwright Sally Domet's Casualties provides an alternative to the alternatives, a brief but traditionally written story of Angie (Lauren Carter), a young woman we see from childhood through adult relationships from the 1950s to the 1970s. (The show has been minimally staged by director Mike Miller upstairs in the Over-the-Rhine club once called alchemize, at 1122 Walnut St. While the old sign still hangs over the entrance, the building is being converted into a soon-to-open bar, Below Zero.)
The play is a memory piece: Angie speaks directly to the audience, then enters into scenes in which we see her as a child, a teenager, a young adult and so on. The work is a bit more than an hour long; it uses nine actors, a sizeable cast for a Fringe production.
These facts add up to an occasionally satisfying performance of a script that doesn’t break much new ground. Angie’s circumstances — she’s a “casualty” of sexual abuse by her stepfather (Dan Britt) — is largely compared to the mental trauma still suffered by Rick (Tim Rhoades), a Vietnam vet who can’t shake the images of carnage he witnessed and participated in. Other characters haunting Angie’s memory include her grandmother (Kathie Labanz), her uncle (Troy Miller), a high-school acquaintance who becomes her first real romance (Aaron Kotte), an elderly psychic (Marian Weage) and a longtime friend of her grandmother (Karen Righter).
The cast list might suggest that Casualties is a full-length play, and if it were to be developed in that direction it might be more satisfying. Too often Angie tells us about momentous events rather than letting us see them happen. As several characters die, the actors portraying them remain onstage watching the action, as if lingering in Angie’s memory. That’s an interesting concept, but on a minimal stage with erratic lighting it’s more distracting than effective.
Angie’s path through difficult relationships is chronicled but not deeply felt. Adding to this lack of emotional texture is the fact that Carter has been directed to narrate the piece in a flat, clinical manner — perhaps reflecting the character’s emotional withdrawal. That results in moments such as her grandmother’s passing or her stepfather’s accidental death that should be deeply felt being described without appearing to affect the young woman.
Carter is a fine actress, ably portraying Angie in various stages of maturity, but we're robbed of her feelings during these crucial narrative moments. As a result, when Angie’s relationship with Rick ultimately crumbles (a turn of events that was never in doubt), her pain seems predictable rather than painful.
Domet is capable of artful writing: Over and over, characters talk about the concept of truth and what it means to them. Some are cynical, others yearning. Angie constantly seeks it — but at the conclusion of Casualties, I wasn’t certain whether she’d found it.
Too often the melodrama washes away good opportunities to dig deeper into these characters and their emotions. More focus, fewer characters and deeper feeling would make Casualties into a more compelling piece of theater. Grade: B-
— Rick Pender