Maureen O’Neill (from left), Jenna Rechsteiner and Dylan Kupper. Photos by Tom Chown.

By ROBERT DIGITALE

Iraq war veteran Jenny Sutter is in no hurry to go home.

In “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts’ latest production, Jenny is a Marine back from combat. We see her hurting so bad that she has little to give to anyone else. Much time will elapse before she reveals the wounds she carries, the regret that haunts her and the loved ones she has waiting for her return.

The drama by Julie Marie Myatt deftly connects us to Jenny, a fitting symbol for the latest generation of warriors to return from a military campaign long out of sight of the average American. The opening night cast made good use of the material to help the audience empathize not only with a veteran but also with the group of lost souls she encounters on her way back home.

A noteworthy aspect of the production is that it features two complete sets of six cast members, each group separately taking the roles for five performances. Kudos to director Wendy Wisely for giving more young actors a chance to shine.

In the play, Jenny may be the protagonist on a journey, but Lou, the woman who takes her in, often winds up the fulcrum on which the action turns. Lou ranks as one of the more curious characters you’ll find on the modern stage – a woman whose addictions are so outlandish (even including raisins), whose restlessness is so enormous and whose humanity is so freely extended to those in need. “Give me something to believe in,” she implores Jenny. Cast member Maureen O’Neill brought Lou to life with a charming quirkiness. As a bonus, she sweetly sang snippets of “In the Sweet By and By,” an old hymn that seemed both Lou’s salve and her prayer.

With Lou, Jenny stays in Slab City, Calif., a sort of desert encampment for the slightly upscale homeless. The resident misfits there each have their own burdens to bear. The hurt in their backstories helps us understand their often messy encounters with Jenny.

Jenna Rechsteiner

Jenna Rechsteiner aptly portrayed Jenny as a woman who fiercely holds people away from her heart. Only later do we see her heartache, as well as the fear she holds about what those she loves will think when they know the truth about her.

Both Rechsteiner and the other cast members succeeded partly by reminding us of the hurts and longings we all share as humans. Audience members will find it easy to reflect on what we owe one another, especially those who on our behalf were sent in uniform into harm’s way. Such reflection seems even more relevant after the recent slayings of the three women mental health clinicians at the Yountville Veterans Home. Friends and colleagues say the three exemplified service to those who had served their country.

Here’s a tip of the hat to the opening night’s remaining cast members: Geoffrey Nixon, Dylan Kupper, Ryan Sayler and Kaellie Clein-Cunningham.

I also want to acknowledge the other set of players: Allison Paine, Jisaela Tenney, Michael Arbitter, Alex Jimenez, Griffin Tatum and Allyson Bray.

The play contains strong language and is recommended for ages 14 and above.

“Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” runs through March 18 at the college’s Newman Auditorium in Emeritus Hall. For information and tickets, click here.

Next up will be Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods,” April 20 to May 6. With the college’s main Burbank Auditorium undergoing renovation, that production will be held at Maria Carrillo High School.