Written and directed by 2010 UTSA graduate TJ Young, who once led the defunct UTSA theatre troupe the Bargain Basement Players, “The Frontlines” chronicles the emotional struggle of a middle-class family in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Currently showing at the Rose Theatre, the play tries to explore the humanization of war, but it has several additional layers of context that allows the viewer to consider the subtle themes of fear and sacrifice that runs throughout.
On a very minimalistic stage, which keeps the play appropriately black-box in feel rather than something more elaborate and distracting, the play follows two concurrent storylines: the restless Garret (Jon Smith) as he enters into the armed forces and back home as his mother Marty (Gina Lowery) struggles with her fear for her son, his sister Lauren attempting to deal with the emotional pressure, and his father Brant (J.J. Fletcher) trying to keep everyone together.
While the play itself is anchored by the emotional drama of the characters, or the aforementioned humanization of war, the script does feature several layers of depth that gives something for the viewer to chew on. One of the persistent themes is fear; not just in how the characters’ fears seem to determine their actions, but fear in a larger sense of what occurred to the American psyche after 9/11.
One particular scene in the first act brings up the point that while many of us were angry at what happened on 9/11, in retrospect, many of us were gripped by fear and being stripped of our American sense of security and contentment. Many people state that 9/11 was our Pearl Harbor, but in a sense it was only the beginning of our generation’s struggle. The characters of Garret and Lauren act almost as stand-ins for Generation Y and how the past decade’s environment of fear ended up compromising our American virtue system rather than solidifying it.
The dialogue is very stable and articulated; while it may not be strictly natural, it’s able to clearly communicate the writer’s intentions while allowing the actors to apply their own subtext. Considering Young’s previous work at UTSA consisted mostly of scripted romantic comedies, it’s commendable that he was able to transition to a serious drama with relative ease.
His direction is kept to a minimum, save for the effective lighting done by Chris Manley. The lighting actually helps the large American flag draped in the back, which could’ve been a bit foreboding, blend into the background nicely.
The actors do a good job maintaining the integrity of the dialogue while being emotionally genuine. Jenny Fisher captures the emotional isolation of Lauren adequately and Gina Lowery’s portrayal of the fragile Marty is touching and genuine. Jon Smith’s performance as Garret is the strongest; in another actor’s hands, the character may have seem like an overtly familiar archetype that’d you see in another military drama. However, he brings a subtle intensity and ambiguity that suggests a darker, unsound aspect to the character.
The drama does feel like it could use a Third Act, but only in a historical sense. Our generation felt that 9/11 was our rallying point, something to unite our country together. But with the two wars in the Middle East, the failure of Hurricane Katrina, and the recession, it’s evolved into something altogether different.
For what it is though, “The Frontlines” at least captures the immediate feelings that many of us shared at that moment admirably and the ending, while a bit too tidied up, reminds us of that brief fragile moment where we genuinely believed in hope for a better tomorrow. And in these ambiguous times, we need that kind of hope more than ever.
“The Frontlines” will be showing Oct. 8th and 9th at 7:30 PM at the Rose Theatre at Lockhill Selma and Wurzbach Rd. Tickets run for $12, although you can get a $2 discount if you friend them on Facebook.