Orange County Theatre Reviews

Written by Scotty Keister 

In the film Patton, George C. Scott (as Patton) while touring an army medical tent famously smacks a GI in the head. The soldier is recovering from what was then called “shell shock” and Patton thinks he’s just malingering. In the military it was generally considered that having an emotional or nervous reaction to anything in war was simply weakness. Psychology has come a long way since then and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is now widely recognized as a serious result of combat, frequently resulting in suicide. As of 2016, suicides by veterans were averaging 6,000 per year. The VA has now made suicide prevention its highest priority.

Twist, Pull, Smoke, Run-Motherfucker-Run, a play by Matthew Domenico and Katherine Connor Duff, addresses the issue of PTSD in how it effects civilian life and relationships with a slow burn that becomes explosive. Now running at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton, Twist, Pull, Smoke is performed by its two authors, along with Brock Joseph, and directed by Ryan Knight. The play was recently performed in brief runs at the Fringe Festival in L.A. and Golden West College. Though uneven, it packs a wallop by its conclusion.

We begin with a ten-minute introduction to the domestic lives of Adam and Leah in their NY apartment. Adam is a war vet and Leah an artist. The banter is a little too familiar and goes on a little too long. We learn Adam doesn’t open up enough to Leah about his experiences in war and that it’s causing a rift in their relationship. Meanwhile, in a chair with his back to the audience, sits a man in combat gear, blood on his face, whom Leah apparently cannot see. As soon as she leaves the play kicks into high gear. The man in the chair, T-Dog (Brock Joseph), is the ghost of Adam’s former comrades in arms, who apparently is still alive in Adam’s mind at all times. Joseph is a dynamo of compressed energy and anger. He injects a jolt of adrenaline into the play that it thrives on.

Adam and T-Dog proceed to wrangle over life after war and wrestle with their memories of combat; guilt, regret, fear, bloodshed, horror, responsibility, forgiveness; reliving firefights and gutting out painful revelations. Adam is on the verge of suicide on a daily basis and it’s his memories of T-Dog that help him to both hold it together and nearly lose it on a regular basis. The play becomes the story of whether or not Adam can resolve his guilt and move on with his life by letting Leah into the horrors he lives with.

I wish the play had begun with a short blast of T-Dog and Adam before settling into a domestic dialog with Leah, something to kick the story into high gear from the outset and get the audience invested in Adam’s dilemma. Then we would have a better insight into Adam and see his struggle with Leah more clearly from the get-go. The 75-minute run-time is otherwise packed with a visceral energy that blows up into powerful moments along the way, leading to an emotional and satisfying conclusion.

Twist, Pull, Smoke runs through April 7 at the Maverick Theater, Friday-Sunday. The play is a heart-felt and incisively honest portrayal of what has become a national tragedy, too often swept under the rug. Highly recommended.

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