PURPLE HEART: Bruce Norris.
Gate Theatre above the Prince Albert Pub 11 Pembridge Road W To 6 April 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Captioned 21 March.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7229 0706.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 March.
The war at home as national strains are heard in a single room..
When this 2002 play was written, for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, the American world had just changed with the previous September’s World Trade Centre attacks. It’s set 30 years earlier, when America had also changed radically, largely as the result of the previous decade’s war in Vietnam.
Yet the military character, Purdy, is the quiet-spoken image of fifties American Dream politeness. He comes bearing doughnuts to the 3-generation dysfunction of a household where the war has meant loss. Visibly, Vietnam’s recalled by the awkward false hand, sometimes causing unexpected comedy, with which Purdy’s been fitted.
A similar artificial part turns up in teenage Thor’s joke and trick collection, counterpointing the traumatic and the trivial. And while Purdy uncomplainingly walks the streets through the night, at home Thor’s rebelliousness is a matter of trying to impress his mother and grandmother when not annoying them with loud music or other expressions of frustration.
The oldest generation, Grace, maintains an attempt to uphold values of traditional decency. It means treating Thor’s mother like a child in the continuing attempt to cut-off supplies of alcohol which are controlling her life, from an opening blank-out on the sofa. It’s a microcosm of disorientation, from the opening where Thor causes controversy by correctly altering clock-time.
Teasingly setting the scene, Norris’s title refers both to the military medal founded by George Washington and a street-drug, its usage upped by the strains of Vietnam. Yet only the uniformed Purdy has a sense of self-control, expressed with smiling helpfulness in Trevor White’s finely sustained, automaton-like performance. Around him Oliver Coopersmith’s Thor thunders petulantly, looking for a sense of release within the bounds of the living-room, while Amelia Lowdell allows Carla’s drinking problem to emerge gradually with her self-deceit and Linda Broughton fusses through the night trying to preserve a breaking family dream.
Simon Kenny provides aptly functional, not-quite-modern décor and Christopher Haydon’s production charts the way through a play which can be cluttered and jumpy in progress, but suggests the more adventurous strategies Norris would show in later plays, which, thanks to the Royal Court, have beaten this to England.
Grace: Linda Broughton.
Thor: Oliver Coopersmith.
Carla: Amelia Lowdell.
Purdy: Trevor White.
Director: Christopher Haydon.
Designer: Simon Kenny.
Lighting: Mark Howland.
Sound: Tom Mills.
Dialect coach: John Tucker.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Caroline Byrne.