First off – what I admire about Arlington is that it is exploring the other side of war. I don’t remember the source of this quote Men prepare for the order of war. Women prepare for the disorder. Now that women are in the military – something that Sara Jane (Alexandra Silber) does not understand, I suppose we need to modify this quote. But you get the idea.
Anyway, in this operetta (not a musical methinks) Sara Jane is a woman at home alone while her husband is off somewhere – Middle East but never identified – and she is coming undone. She doesn’t know it, but the beads of her mental bodice are becoming unstrung. She speaks of daisies and sunlight in the beginning but by the end she is focused on Arlington, where, if her husband comes home in a box, she may attend a funeral as a widow.
Following a brilliant thunderstorm that wakes Sara from a nap we see the sun return and Sara begins to sing
I’m not a rain person,
I’m a sun person.
Well, I mean, I don’t like to go out in the sun
Because I burn
But I like it around.
This is who Sara is, a walking compendium of contradictions and clarifications. Dressed in a Donna Reed shirtwaist (an odd choice for 2014) Sara is tackling her demons with everything she has. As it turns out, her artillery was spent long ago. She thinks about odd dreams and memories. In her dreams she easts a leaf as if she were a caterpillar. Her first kiss with her husband was in the Inquisition room at the Haunted Mansion. He tried to put her on the rack.
Her mother, who we never see, is coming for a liquid lunch due to her third plastic surgery. Silber’s comedic skills show up here and several times more throughout the show. This is a gifted musical comedy actor. Her voice does not sustain as she moves into the more operatic portions of the performance, which is somewhat disappointing.
Eventually we hear about Arlington, which was a place that made Sara re-order her thought process for life. The guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier wear gloves that are always wet so they never lose their grip. Rain or shine. Winter and summer. Their cadence is a 21 count in steps and silence. They live in the barracks underneath the tomb and must remain sober all their lives. There is ceremony and sadness in Arlington. There is succor in that.
These are the details that come tumbling out and eventually lead to Jerry, who is not the icon Sara wants him to be. The war is eating them both alive, and Sara is the one to go down talking. There is no safety in sun or rain. There is no safety in clouds or moonlight. This is PTSD home-style.
In reading over the script I was again touched by the vulnerability and specificity of the writing. What I don’t understand was, why make it all music. And why, why, why make it music that is without melody? Occasionally there is a musical theme onto which we latch. But it is fleeting, and the score resumes its wandering. The writing stands on its own as a monologue about an iconic character of whom we see too little on the stage. Unfortunately the music – in spite of the exquisite work by Ben Moss – dilutes the message.
Arlington – WITH: Alexandra Silber (Sara Jane) and Ben Moss (Pianist).
Book and lyrics by Victor Lodato; music by Polly Pen; directed by Carolyn Cantor; sets by Dane Laffrey; costumes by Jess Goldstein; lighting by Tyler Micoleau; sound by Dan Moses Schreier; music supervisor, Dan Lipton; music director, Ben Moss; production stage manager, Megan Smith; general manager, DR Theatrical Management; production manager, Adrian White. Presented by Vineyard Theater, Douglas Aibel, artistic director; Sarah Stern, co-artistic director; Jennifer Garvey-Blackwell, executive producer. At the Vineyard Theater, 108 East 15th Street, Manhattan, 212-353-0303, vineyardtheatre.org. Through March 23. Running time: 1 hour.