Reviewed by Robert Liebowitz
From “The Merchant of Venice” through “A Few Good Men”, the courtroom setting has always made for compelling, riveting drama. “POW”, the latest work of Irving A. Greenfield, and directed by Laurie Rae Waugh, has also made a successful journey through the same hallowed halls,
The plot is a new permutation on the horrors of war: a college professor, Sidney Pollack (solidly played as always by the able Ken Coughlin) has written a short story which has circulated on the campus, concerning a mercy killing that occurred in Vietnam many years back. Next thing we know, the Professor is arrested, and is about to face a military trial.
The idea of a mercy killing is, strangely, a new one, and solid grounds for a play–in the hundreds of movies and plays about the horrors of war, this humble scribe cannot think of a similar piece of work. There shall be new footprints in the snow, which is all any writer or artist can ask for.
The journey through Act I is a plodding one, though. The play opens with scenes that have little to do with he plot — the Professor and his wife concerned with their estranged son, which takes up a bulk of the writing and has no pay off at the end. The triangle of mother, father, son belongs in another play. It also made the prospects for an exciting Act II bleak, at best.
However, … the Act introduces us the meat and potatoes of the play–the Professor’s Chairwoman, her adulterous lover detective (Anthony J. Gallo, a commanding presence), and the court, deftly changed set-wise from a seedy bedroom into a cathedral of justice.
The drama now plays out–in 1970, a fellow soldier has been wounded and tortured by the enemy. In turn, he is killed by his commanding officer, in an act of mercy. Can this be interpreted as murder?
The Second Act sets out to answer that question, and the play moves along, building to a ascending peak.Singled out for special praise would be Alan Charney as the Professor’s defense lawyer; his sonorous voice and overall presence made us wish he had more to say. Michael Bordwell, as the Judge, for the same reason, and Ted Montuori, a high-flying dynamo who in a cameo appearance alters the course of the play with a well-delivered monologue.
After a slow start by everyone, the action sped along and came together, and this is a tip of the cap for the abilities of the director, Laurie Rae Waugh.
The production/play lets the audience decide if Professor Pollack is guilty or not–while this seems a little gimmicky, and is not the best choice, the production still succeeds and is worth viewing, because at its heart it asks a question that speaks to all of us, and yet it is a question that none of us can answer.