Plumfield, Iraq Goes Straight To The Heart
by Tracy Bueno


It’s been a while since I’ve watched a play, but Plumfield, Iraq is like a movie, sans the special effects. What’s interesting about this play is the difficulty of overcoming violent aspects of war on one’s psyche that he or she just can’t shake off.

Plumfield, Iraq, presented by UCSB’s Theater and Dance Department, made its world premiere on Friday, May 16, at Hatlen Theatre, with more showings throughout the end of this month. Written by Barbara Lebow, a Michael Douglas Visiting Artist, and directed by faculty member Risa Brainin, it tells the story of two friends signing up for the Army, leaving everything and everyone behind.

The play opens with a group of soldiers running and chanting miles away overseas, and shifts over to a group of lifelong friends living in the small community of Plumfield, Washington. Cam Fletcher (Brennan Kelleher) comes back into town after President Bush deemed the war in Iraq over in May 2003, saying “Mission accomplished!” He then convinces his best friend Mike Herren (Charlie Faith, who reminds me of a dramatic Shia LaBeouf that totally blew me away) to join him in the Army, telling him they will stay together, no matter what happens. Surrounded by a series of shades going up and down like Rear Window in the opening credits, and video footage of what happens over the next months, what Mike and Cam don’t know is that going to Iraq will change their lives and their friends forever. Cam must leave his girlfriend Lorraine (Amy Gumenick), whom he later marries and has a daughter with, as well as his sister Marianne (Christy Escobar). Mike, meanwhile, must leave his budding relationship with Beth (Brytni Sarpy), as well as his family to a place where he must fend for himself.

Set off by acapella songs performed by The Plummers, a fictional group that includes Cam, Mike and their friends, the mission of becoming heroes is interrupted when Cam looks at a piano, which is important for Mike as a musician. When Cam starts playing, he is suddenly killed in a blast, sending Mike into complete shock. From that point on, Mike is no longer the same person, going into a state of confusion and loneliness.

As an actor, Faith is convincing with the challenge of playing a soldier who can’t seem to move on and carries the traumatic events when he comes back to Plumfield. One of the most poignant scenes is when Lorraine shows him pictures of his niece growing up, as well as video footage of his friends and overseas, which causes him to isolate himself from society. He doesn’t want anyone to help him and feels accountable for Cam’s death.

While looking at the program, which contains a timeline of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” the current death toll of U.S. soldiers since the war began in 2003 is 4,060, according to USA Today. To me that is shocking. There aren’t enough news stories covering how soldiers make the transition to normal life, and how hard it is to overcome days of fighting in a unknown place. Even though many people do not want to talk about the war, the fact that it is affecting troops is true.

The cast is amazingly talented, especially in exhibiting the emotions of their characters. The person who really stole the show was Faith himself as he demonstrated the many facets of his character, especially in the psychiatrist scene. When the doctor (played by Escobar) tells him about what happened, he screams so loud even I jumped, and perhaps the audience did too. The guilt, anger and pain of being the only one alive without his friend, makes the audience wonder whether he’ll go down further, or whether the worst will happen. Mike eventually realizes that he can slowly move on with life when he acknowledges everyone for trying to help him out in difficult times in a video. He packs up his things, puts on an army cap, and takes off to return where he started, leaving a red jacket and a tape recorder filled with Cam’s voice leading to the Plummers singing the last song.

There were parts where the play was incredibly sad, and I became teary-eyed at the after effects of war on everyone, especially young people stationed to go into battle. Mike leaving Plumfield for Iraq meant he was going back to the neverending journey that many troops must deal with.