'Almost Home': EW review
PTSD were just four separate letters of the alphabet in 1965, the year in which the new Off Broadway play Almost Home takes place, but the syndrome colors its entirety. And this is probably not at all accidental given that the playwright, Walter Anderson, is a former Marine and Vietnam veteran who knows post-traumatic stress from experience. Organizing that experience into a cohesive drama, though, is where the author seems to stumble. It’s the rare play where one act seems far too paltry to fully realize the potential of the material.
On a kitchen set reminiscent of early British drama, Harry (Joe Lisi), an ex-serviceman and drunkard, and his steel-willed wife, Grace (Karen Ziemba), await the homecoming of their son, Johnny (Jonny Orsini, forceful and believable), released from active duty in Vietnam. Johnny seems both relieved and maddened by returning to the family’s cramped NYC tenement apartment and considers re-enlisting as a drill instructor or heading to the West Coast for college. His former teacher and family friend, Luisa (Brenda Pressley), pushes the latter option, while his father’s police-honcho bud (James McCaffrey) chimes in, lording over the family like a Mafia don (he’s kept both Johnny and Harry out of trouble at different points in their life). He wants to take advantage of Johnny’s combat training, keen sense, and former pugilism to become an internal-affairs heavy. The story carries clear echoes of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy.
Anderson’s play is best when it focuses on behavior (Johnny’s ill-timed outbursts, the seething marital regret between Harry and Grace), but comes up short on actual drama or real stakes for the characters. He introduces an obvious villain (McCaffrey’s slippery sergeant only needs a mustache to twirl), a hunting knife, and a big stack of cash, but then there’s no melodramatic payoff. (Chekhov would not be pleased.) Ziemba, among the warmest and most unassuming of actresses, provides some grace notes, and there’s enough promise in the underlying themes to inform a rich period play. But at 80 minutes, Almost Home feels rushed, concluding at the very point it should be taking off. C+