‘Defenders’ the Fear Found in the Fjords

By Ernest Kearney  —  Defenders by Cailin Maureen Harrison is an odd little hybrid, that comes across like M. Night Shyamalan had usurped from Steven Spielberg the direction of Saving Private Ryan.  Currently running at The Broadwater in Hollywood, the play is well-packed with strong characters, an exotic setting and an ambitious fusing of gritty war drama and supernatural thriller. 

Unfortunately, the playwright hasn’t hidden the seams of the various fabrics used in sewing together her theatrical tapestry, neither has she succeeded in connecting the armscye and sloper, nor matched the grainline to a thematic pattern. 

The result is a good deal of “Twilight” and not enough “Zone.”

Set in the spring of 1942 the core of Harrison’s tale revolves around the fate of three luckless United States Army G.I.’s sent to secure the Icelandic island of Hrísey**, to prevent it from being occupied by Nazi forces.

The trio is an interesting triptych of the American social order: The Lieutenant (Bryan Porter) a New York blueblood from an old banking family, his lower class, inner-city Sergeant (Travis Doucette) and the unsophisticated young Private (Spencer Martin) from the backwater Cajun community of Louisiana’s bayou.

After encountering an unnatural storm that sends their landing craft and most of their equipment to the bottom of the Greenland Sea the three men make their way to an old church.  There they roughly commandeer the support of the church’s pastor (John P. Connolly) and his daughter (Vigdis Geirsdóttir). 

Things start to go “bump” in the night rather quickly.  More sinister “bumps” follow.  The island itself seems to rise up to expel the American “invaders,” striking out with inexplicable weather.  Then there are foreboding “bumps,” and eerie “bumps,” and…well let’s just say that the spirits of the island engage in so much “bumping” it’s like the fjords have been caught up in the twerking craze.

Harrison attempts to establish a solidly spooky catalyst behind all the creepiness that the three American’s come into conflict with, but she doesn’t manage to carry it off. * ♦ * 

However the weakness in the structure of the piece is nicely shrouded by the strengths of its cast and director. 

Riveting performances, by Porter and Doucette, serve to distract from the plot’s pitfalls, and both Eggerts and Connolly contribute their talents to achieve this.  Regrettably, there is a tendency here for Martin’s talents to be tripped up by his tongue, with much of his dialogue disappearing in the depths of his unwieldy Cajun dialect.

Director Reena Dutt deftly demonstrates both craft and intelligence in her application of pacing and punch to a problematic piece that proves to be a pleasing production.

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* * Told to be “The Pearl of Eyjafjörður”

* ♦ *   And she flubs the facts of the American presence in Iceland.  We didn’t “occupy” the island in 1942; we were invited by the Icelandic Alpingi (parliament) to replace the unpopular British forces that invaded the island in 1940 despite its declaration of neutrality.  In 1941 the British marines departed and the American G.I,’s arrived, agreeing to withdraw all military personnel no later than 1946.  We ran a bit over schedule there, but the military presence of the United States in Iceland was eventually ended.  In 2006.  (What can I say, I’m a history junkie?)

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Defenders

Now Playing

Mondays:         8:00pm

Saturdays:        8:00pm

Sundays:          3:00pm

Thru Dec. 8

at

The Broadwater Black Box
6322 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038

For more information and to purchase tickets,
call (323) 960-5770 or go to www.Onstage411.com/defenders.

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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