With soldiers still encountering difficult conditions, to say the least, in Afghanistan and more veterans attempting to reconcile acts committed in the intensity of war with the decorum expected at home, Forum Theatre’s 9 Circles comes at a very apt time. Written by Bill Cain and directed by Jennifer L. Nelson, the play, in its area premiere, follows Private Daniel Reeves, played by an intense Julian Elijah Martinez, as he is first given an honorable discharge in Iraq and then finds himself on trial back home in the United States, charged with crimes that he does not, at least at first, appear to understand. Knowing that similar cases have occurred, with soldiers tried for rape and murder in civilian courts for crimes committed in Iraq, makes the play extra powerful.
Three additional fine actors, Katy Carkuff, Jonathan Feuer, and Scott McCormick, play a variety of serious roles ranging from pastor to lieutenant, enclosing around protagonist Reeves as he delves deeper and deeper into the nine circles of hell. Each character essentially drives him further into this nightmare playing out in Reeves’ own reality.
The show’s design focused on the inferno-esque theme. Lighting Designer Dan Covey skillfully manipulates the lights to circle tighter and tighter around Reeves as the play draws to its conclusion. Scenery and Projections Designer Klyph Stanford has circles interlocking and creating different, poignant playing spaces as the protagonist’s world tightens around him.
The play’s subject matter combined with no intermission make for a play that was too long, overall. While it may have been difficult to insert a break into a play dealing with such a weighty topic, several scenes, particularly the last two, encompassing the eighth and ninth circles of the protagonist’s hell, stretched for an uncomfortable length of time. For example, as the playwright’s notes point out, the inscription on the entrance to the gates of Hell in Dante’s Inferno reads, “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.” It seems as if the character Reeves (Martinez) reaches a hopeless, neurotic state, with all entities against him and almost no one willing to face him twice, well before the play’s end. Fortunately, he finally has a telling scene with the shrink (Carkuff), in which his actions are partially explained and his guilt or innocence thrust into a gray area. Still, when faced with hell, where there is no room for doubt, a verdict must be reached.
Though 9 Circles’ material certainly does not make for a lighthearted night out, it does leave the audience pondering very recent events within our own country and wondering how many levels of hell our soldiers must face in their line of work.
Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.
9 Circles plays through March 2, 2013 at Forum Theatre at Round House Theatre (Silver Spring) – 8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.