Photograph by James Kaysan
SEARCHING FOR HOPE: Steve Voldseth and Meredith Hagedorn play a couple coping with PTSD in Six Years.
A World War II vet and his wife struggle with trauma in Dragon Productions' 'Six Years'
By Mike Connor
AS TITLES GO, Six Years ranks up there with A Very Long Engagement as a great way to make an exciting piece of art sound as enjoyable as a root canal. Granted, Sartre got away with calling a play No Exit, but it's easy to imagine how, say, an acid-belching monster could make that exciting. Six Years? Might as well call it Interminable Purgatory. Either title is unfair to the new play, written by Sharr White shortly after 9/11, and cleverly executed by Dragon Productions at the tiny Dragon Theatre in Palo Alto. Six Years tells the story of a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder named Phil Granger (Steve Voldseth) and his wife, Meredith (Meredith Hagedorn). Dysfunction and tragedy ensue, but with some interesting twists.
Director Kimberly Mohne Hill and her cast meet the challenge of representing a story that takes place over the course of two wars and 24 years, from Chicago to California, all on a stage not much larger than your average living room. Using a Murphy bed and some other versatile furniture, the set becomes hotel rooms, living rooms and even a bar. Some imagination is required, but Voldseth's performance meets you more than halfway. As the traumatized vet recently returned from the war, his Phil Granger is at first solemnly understated, a placid reservoir of emotion about to overflow its dam. And as you would expect from any story about someone suffering from PTSD, that dam overflows in the familiar cycle of violent outbursts and tear-filled confessions. But Six Years goes one step further, thanks to his loving yet resentful wife, Meredith.
The play begins with Meredith finding her way into Phil's hotel room where he's been hiding out after being discharged from the war for "exhaustion." It's not even clear at first what their relationship is, so alienated are the couple. But their reconciliation, however tenuous, is made poignant and believable by Hagedorn's Meredith, whose self-awareness makes her untrustworthy enough to be interesting. At times the dialogue is too coy, with conversation like, "Were you ... ? Are you planning on ... ? I don't know," leaving too much left unsaid. The actors occasionally struggled to act out the awkwardness suggested by their apparently unspeakable thoughts, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not.
Time goes by, Phil and Meredith have a son, affairs, fights and moments of tenderness. In the play's best scene, the stage is split into a bar on one half and a bedroom on the other. On one side, Meredith is getting ready to consummate an affair with the couple's friend and business partner Tom, a likeable square played with refreshing ease by Rich Miller. On the other side, Phil is in a bar scaring a woman he meets with war talk. While Meredith trips and stumbles on her guilt, Phil tells a story about catching up with an old friend from the war, but later realizing that the man was a stranger and his friend was long dead. It's a gloomy story, one that begins and ends in the rain, with little more than a sliver of hope.
SIX YEARS, presented by Dragon Productions, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Nov. 30 at the Dragon Theatre, 535 Alma St., Palo Alto. Tickets are $13–$20 (800.838.3006)
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