Defiance
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Charles Jarrett

If you’re looking for a few good men who can make a difference, look no further than Playhouse West in Walnut Creek. Defiance, their current production by Academy Award winner John Patrick Shanley, takes us to a US Marine Corps base in North Carolina in 1971. The Vietnam War is taking its toll on the morale of all the troops, and racial tensions, on and off base, add to the stresses of Lt. Col. Littlefield’s (Louis Parnell) command.

If Littlefield ever hopes to be promoted to full bird colonel, he needs to do something about these problems. He invites Captain Lee King (David Stewart), his staff judge advocate, and the base chaplain (Mike Reynolds) to his home to discuss the problem. King is a black officer who did two tours in Vietnam. Chaplain White, like most chaplains seems to have his head in ethereal clouds of good and evil. When black power is brought up the chaplain says there’s “only one power and it doesn’t have color.” King on the other hand says that the racial problem on base is “not because of black power. It’s because they have no power.” He also comments that since black power is aggressive, it’s something the Marines can work with. Preferring King’s down to earth views, Littlefield quickly dismissed the chaplain and has a serious talk with King.

With the help of King’s advice, Littlefield starts making positive strides in morale and in quelling racial tensions. He makes King his executive officer and hints at promoting him to major, and it doesn’t look like it will take long before the general will promote Littlefield to bird colonel.

But the shit hits the fan when private Davis (Alex Kirschner) walks into King’s office and accuses Littlefield of having an affair with his wife. When King asks why Davis came to him, breaking the chain of command, Davis explains that he talked to the chaplain and the chaplain told him to come direct to King. When King goes to have a talk with the chaplain, we begin to see that there is a lot more depth to Chaplain White’s character than meets the eye. Even though White has never been able to talk King into going to services at the chapel, he senses a basic goodness in this Vietnam vet that makes him sure that King will always do the right thing even if it means putting his military career on the line.

The resulting conflict raises all kinds of great questions about how people in leadership roles should be held to a higher authority. When King confronts Littlefield, the colonel argues about all the good he has done and how he’s only messed up once in 22 years of military service. But his argument sounds weak and shallow even to the colonel.

Don’t miss this excellent drama about how a leader’s life has to be more than lust for power and earthly rewards. For tickets or more information call (925) 942-0300 or visit www.playhousewest.org.

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