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Theatre Review: Medal of Honor Rag

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, November 9, 2011

This play takes the shape of a one-hour therapy session in a mental hospital. The old psychiatrist shuffles into a drab military meeting room, and then patient DJ Jackson - a Medal of Honor recipient -- comes in with a suspicious gaze. The psychiatrist reviews the previous doctor's notes.

Psychiatrist:  "Subject is bright, his arm GT rating is the equivalent of 128 IQ. In first interviews, he does not volunteer any information. He related he grew up in a Detroit ghetto, never knew his natural father."

The patient is physically robust , but doubtful and depressed. He had a gruesome experience in Vietnam. He saw his best friends burned alive when their tank was hit by a shell. He saw American soldiers gun down children. But the young vet doesn't want to talk about it.

Psychiatrist: "You want to listen to me for a minute?"

DJ Jackson: "You said you was the one who listened."

Psychiatrist: "I can't listen if you won't tell me anything."

DJ Jackson: "I am telling you, man. If I knew what to tell you to make me feel better, I would have done it a long time ago. I ain't the doctor. I can't cure myself."

These brittle, back-and-forth exchanges can be jolting, with flare-ups of racial tension and sudden fury as the two men try and build a basis for a relationship. Old pro Patrick Murphy plays the doctor, college student Isaac Watts plays the young vet struggling with depression.  

This is a very small, low-budget show. The battered office furniture onstage could be from a thrift store - or a former Army base. But while the set is purely utilitarian, this show draws on a strong script, savvy direction, and moving performances. "Medal of Honor Rag" is the kind of gritty, socially aware drama that California Stage likes to present - a challenging play that makes you think. And here's the kicker: this play is staged in a metal shed built by local Vietnam vets as a place where they could gather and talk.
"Medal of Honor Rag" continues at California Stage in mid-town Sacramento through November 27th.
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