“Back From the Front” runs from May 3 to 27 at the theatre at Riverside Church, 91 Claremont Avenue at 120th Street. For tickets, call (212) 870-6784 or visit www.ticketweb.com. Mention code AFM802 and receive a $5 discount. For information on bringing a group, contact the Working Theatre at (212) 539-5675.
May is Labor History Month, and the Working Theatre presents its latest work, “Back From the Front.” The play paints an absurd picture of America at war, a hilarious and tragic portrait of a family coming apart at the seams. When a government agent announces to the Walker family on national TV that their son Robbie — who has been missing in action — will be delivered home alive for Thanksgiving, they are overjoyed. But when a strange young man in uniform arrives on their doorstep, they go to record depths of denial to avoid the unbearable prospect of loss.
Connie Grappo, the artistic director of the Working Theatre, interviewed Lynn Rosen, who wrote the play.
Connie Grappo: So what prompted you to write “Back From the Front”?
Lynn Rosen: Outrage! Also a feeling of helplessness. I was homebound with my newborn son during the run up to the war and found myself watching a lot of news. My blood pressure must have been through the roof — maybe this is why my son never napped? — because I could not believe the lies the administration seemed to be feeding us about this warrantless war. I could not stomach what was about to perpetrated in our name and the lives that would be lost. I was infuriated by the complicity and complacency of both the media and the Democrats as well. I was appalled by how they utilized the threat of terrorism to terrorize their own citizens into submission. But of course I couldn’t do much about it. I felt helpless.
The only outlet for my anger and concern was, as always, to put it on paper. The tragic absurdity of the lies they told us is what set the tone for this play.
CG: Has motherhood had an impact on your views on the current war, or war in general?
LR: Imagining what it would feel like to say goodbye to my son — whether in an eternal sense, or simply saying goodbye if he had to ship off to war, especially one as senseless as this — is too painful to bear. Even when my son goes to his grandparents for the night I feel like a part of me is missing. So while I’d like to think that even if I were childless I’d empathize with families who have loved ones involved in this war and who live every day within a shadow of fear and loss, having a child makes my compassion for them and my indignation over this war more intense. Being a mom — and reading interviews with women whose children are entangled in this war — was definitely another catalyst for writing “Back From The Front.” The family in this play, particularly the mother, refuse to abandon the idea that their son is alive and well and that the war is just no matter what evidence to the contrary might suggest. I can see myself being there…or maybe I’d take the route of Cindy Sheehan. I can’t really know and hope I never will.
CG: Why have you chosen to use comedy to deal with this subject?
LR: I always utilize humor — whether in plays, or in life — to deal with whatever situation is at hand. It’s just the way I communicate and get through the day. I think humor is a powerful and subversive way to tell a story and perhaps reflect a point of view. I’m not a fan of hitting someone over the head to make a statement. I’d prefer the audience laugh their way into the world I’m creating. I’d rather everything sneak up on them. But the mood of this play is also dictated by the times we live in. The administration continues to brazenly create their own reality — their own version of the truth — in order to sell this war. It’s so absurd and heightened and ridiculous. The tone of the play is a reflection of this. It would be hysterically funny if the consequences weren’t so tragic. Likewise, in “Back From The Front” the comedy gives way to what’s beneath — the desperate love the family has for their son and the tragedy they work furiously to deny.