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    Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier

    Daughter, heal thyself

    "Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier" uses dance, theater, multimedia and comedy to explore the mind of the playwright's war-traumatized father.


    "Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier" tries to do a lot of different things — too many, sometimes — to dramatize the damage that war wreaks on the psyches of those who fight in them. Built on the memories of actual World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans, the show uses diary entries, letters, recorded interviews, dance and skits to explore this subject with results that are sometimes trivial but sometimes devastating.

    Written and directed by: Tamar Rogoff.
    Cast: Tamar Rogoff, Abigail Rasminsky, Billy Clark, Jennifer Chang, Rob Laqui, Paulo Pimentel.
    Choreography by: Tamar Rogoff.
    Featuring interviews with five war veterans, uncredited.
    La Mama Experimental Theater
    74A East 4th St.
    Jan. 3-20, 2002

    Tamar Rogoff, primarily a choreographer, conceived of this show as a way to expose her feelings for her deceased father, who fought in Southeast Asia in World War II but always shrank from discussing his experience there. As evidence in this investigation, she has only his diaries and his letters home to his wife — the early ones are passionate, witty and eloquent, but later they turn grim and hopeless. "Darling," he writes as what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder gradually saps him of the will to live, "can you bear this awful, lonely cry from across the world?"

    The father Rogoff new was a well-respected doctor, the toast of military reunions, full of humor and charm in public, and yet distant at home — and more than that, bordering on bizarre. Coming home from work, he would show up at the dinner table in outlandish outfits — for example, putting on his uniform backwards. "I began at age seven a vigilance campaign to uncover the mysteries of my father," she explains. "I knew he was a smiler, a joker, a kidder, but I sensed that there was something under the surface, something dark and profound."

    "Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier" offers some keys to understanding the experience that these veterans (four of whom attended the show I saw, tearfully joining the cast for a standing ovation at the end) have endured all their lives.  

    To explore the burden that returning soldiers keep buried in their minds, Rogoff plays recorded interviews with five veterans of foreign wars. Their memories — more straightforward and naked than her dad's, perhaps because Americans have dropped their simple, stoical facade about war since Vietnam — go far in explaining the horror, fear, intense sorrow and abandonment of hope that soldiers experience in war. Their statements stand on their own, but they also give Rogoff a clearer idea about her father's experience.

    It seems a mistake to add comedy skits and dance to this potent material, making it a variety show instead of letting the full impact of the men's memories and Rogoff's own insights about her father sink in. Five dancers accompany the five veterans' recorded statements, and although they are earnest and capable, it's not clear that they add any meaning. One exception is a simple performance by the petite but exceptional dancer Jennifer Chang, in which she accompanies a soldier's description of cutting himself off from the world with a quickly repeated sequence of movements covering the eyes, ears, mouth and every other possible opening in the body. Without overly dramatizing the idea of fear, she perfectly symbolizes how the soldiers cut themselves off from the world when they are finally overwhelmed by the carnage and fear around them.

    I also wish Rogoff had better summed up the lesson that she learned connecting the other veterans to her dad. But there are hints of that lesson when she describes her final parting with her dying father, a story that tells volumes about the conflicting feelings she grew up with as this tortured man's daughter. Even with the show's distractions, "Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier" offers some keys to understanding the experience that these veterans (four of whom attended the show I saw, tearfully joining the cast for a standing ovation at the end) have endured all their lives.

    JANUARY 27, 2002

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