BeyondTheNest.com reviews Other Than Honorable's World Premiere at Geva Theatre Center
by Debra Ross
"RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES!"
Catchy, isn't it? "Ripped from the headlines." It's the phrase they use to hype sensationalistic TV shows to say "This is relevant to YOU! This is relevant to TODAY!" in four short words to get you to watch it. But you don't want to see a play just because the topic is trendy; you want to see a show for its gripping story, incisive dialogue, and the way it connects you to the characters without making you feel manipulated. I'm pleased to say Jamie Pachino's Other Than Honorable, which is in its world premiere run at Rochester's Geva Theatre Center, has all of these reasons and more. It is playing on Geva's Wilson Stage through May 21, 2017. You should see it.
While Other Than Honorable was certainly inspired by the real-life spotlight recently placed on sexual harassment and assault in the U.S. military, it is about much more, and that's why it is connecting so well with audiences. While few of us have actually been under the glare of a commanding officer, most of us have grappled with whether it's best to stand up for what is right or keep quiet, to fight back against unreasonable demands or do what you're told. The play is a healthy reminder that the easier path right now may have devastating consequences down the road.
Other Than Honorable is about a young lawyer, Grace Rattigan (Jessiee Datino), who 8 years ago resigned her commission from the Army under sealed terms to pursue a legal career. While her husband is deployed in Afghanistan, she reluctantly takes on the case of Lydia Walsh (Aime Donna Kelly), who is AWOL from the Army and charged with stabbing her superior officer after he raped her. The case forces Grace to confront her own past in a gripping drama about what it means to be trapped in a system that betrays the very ideals it purports to uphold.
Although we don't uncover this detail for certain until a short while into the play, it is not really a spoiler to say that Grace herself was the victim of a rape that caused her to leave the Army: Right from the start of the play, Datino's portrayal of Grace as a woman holding it together in the professional world by force of will and intelligence despite overwhelming anxiety is an obvious pointer to what kind of incident in her past is driving her longing for prescription drugs and vodka.
The action and rhythm of Other Than Honorable are more akin to a contemporary TV episode than to an artsy postmodern play, which makes sense because Pachino is currently a writer on Chicago PD. Think A Few Good Men. You can even think Law and Order if you take away some of L & O's contrived plot points. But what TV courtroom dramas can't convey is true character development. In the space of a few hours (and we need to forgive Pachino for compressing the time sequence of the trials into a few weeks), we walk in step with Grace on a journey from weakness to strength, from fuzzy thinking to clarity, from uncertainty to resolve. We can thank Pachino's writing, Datino's portrayal of Grace, and Kimberly Senior's careful direction and pacing for how we connect with Grace...and for how much we loathe Brigadier General Gideon Kane, played so ably by Jason Kolotourous that I would have to be careful not to experience a rush of hatred if I met Kolotourous in Wegmans.
Is Other Than Honorable an indictment of the U.S. military? No, and yes. No, because this play is fundamentally about overcoming personal obstacles to try to secure a more just future both for particular individuals and for society as a whole. But yes, in that I left the play glad that my 16- and 17-year-old daughters have not expressed an interest in the military as a career.
Other Than Honorable is recommended for ages 16 and up. I brought my 16-year-old daughter, Ella, who thinks that even mature 13-year-olds would find the play valuable, as long as they and their parents understand that the play contains explicit descriptions of rape and other violence, and also a fair amount of what Ella described as "perfectly positioned" profanity.
The scene I was happiest about Ella seeing takes place just before intermission. You know how sometimes the audience sees the obvious course of action for a character who won't take it because he or she is boxed into a system of the playwright's own devising? (The way you want to shout "Don't go into the cellar!" during a horror movie.) Characters in a play just don't behave with that kind of common sense, after all. In this scene, Grace offers Lydia an option that is so far outside the boundary of what has been Lydia's experience that the entire audience is positive that she'll reject it. So when Lydia in fact does take Grace's advice, you pretty much just want to run up on stage and hug both of them, Grace for having had the idea and Lydia for having the sense to go for it. I had to refrain from lecturing at Ella during intermission about the importance of sometimes taking an out when it is offered.
I don't think you should see Other Than Honorable because it addresses important social issues of our time. I don't think you should see Other Than Honorable in order to be inspired to political activism. I think you should see Other Than Honorable because it's a fine play that reminds us that winning at life demands that we all do battle with enemies both from without and within, and because it has evocative dialogue, fabulous acting, and an ending you won't forget.
Other Than Honorable is at Geva Theatre Center through May 21, 2017. Ticket prices are $25 - $64.