By ROBERT DIGITALE
Sonoma State University’s “The Hummingbird Wars” lets us watch how an Afghan war veteran copes as the lives of his wife, son and daughter
spin increasingly out of control.
Isn’t the vet supposed to be the one suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? But Warren, a dad and a decorated war hero, seems more adept than most men at holding himself together under life’s pressures. One minute he’s managing to avoid tension with his politically active law professor wife. The next he’s agreeing to let his daughter’s heavily medicated girlfriend move in with the family. And after that he remains steady and calm while trying to ascertain why his son took a loaded gun to high school.
Despite Warren’s best efforts, life unravels. The son eventually reveals he has more guns than friends (though we begin to guess who was really
stockpiling them). The daughter’s girlfriend somehow becomes even more medicated and foul mouthed. The daughter goes into cocoon mode. And the mom becomes convinced she’s disappearing.
In the midst of all the mayhem, we at last begin to learn a little of what Warren went through in Afghanistan and what’s at stake if he should give up on those he loves.
It’s an intimate work, performed in the university’s Studio 76 black box theater in Ives Hall.
The work by Carter Lewis, a playwright in residence at Washington University of St. Louis, is characterized in the program as a black comedy. It’s a protest of sorts against more than a decade of U.S. involvement in war and against what director Judy Navas calls “world domination by corporations.”
The humor and the list of how the world’s gone wrong can come rapid fire. A drug advertisement giving the usual mind-numbing list of possible side effects sounds like Robin Williams wrote it. And the mom assures her husband that five minutes of quiet reflection will lead to “the tingle of impending doom.”
At Thursday’s opening, the small cast brought the work alive, led by David O’Connell as the father. He made Warren a mild-mannered and truly likable creature. At first we see a naturally self-deprecating and selfless fellow, but over time we begin to sense the wounds he still carries from his days as a warrior.
Renee Hardin, as Tracey, the daughter’s girlfriend, gets to be the wildest and wackiest character, a psychologically fragile young woman who relies on meds to barely hold things together.
Adding the right mix of strangeness and attitude are Ashlyn Kelley as the mom Mel, Carlos Rodriguez as the son Pete, and Rosemarie Kingfisher as the daughter Kate.
The play continues through Nov. 15 with evening performances Thursday through Saturday and matinees on Sunday. For tickets, click here.
Still ahead this season are the musical “Into the Woods,” Feb. 4-14, and William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” May 3-8.