Based on the actual atrocities committed circa 2004 onward at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Bad Apples is another bold undertaking by Circle X, one that is scathingly real and at the same time exhilarating theatre. Two soldiers Specialist Charles Graner - named Chuck Shepard (James Black) in the play and his fiance Lynndie England - here named Pvt. Lyndsay Skinner (Kate Morgan Chadwick) were convicted in courts martial, imprisoned and dishonorably discharged for torture, abuse, and sexual crimes including rape of Iraqi prisoners.
Shepard had been accused of abuse against his spouse and causing the death of his infant son prior to service and impregnated both Skinner and Lt. Scott (Meghan McDonough) while in active service in Iraq. The first charges at home, according to him, were lies. Was he really then to blame for his actions in Iraq? Or was he set up? It appears that the brutal criminal acts were carried out by members of the US Army and other US government services but under order. Thusly, those eventually stripped of their rank and imprisoned were not to blame. Everything was instigated by the upper echelons of the Busch administration. As Shepard emotionally explains before court martial: deplorable conditions in Iraq created greater tensions and pressures on the military and caused them to commit acts that they would be less likely to perform as civilians. Sounds like a cover up! Another urgent point made in the musical play is how very much 18 year old Americans wanted to join the National Guard, just for one year, so that they could make a positive difference in their lives and the lives of others. The horrifying results of our soldiers' participation in the Iraqi War is sickening and makes one question the very meaning of sacred loyalty to the Armed Forces.
Bad Apples boasts an amazing cast. Black is tough and simultaneously despicable and tender in a chilling performance. Skinner is breathtaking, victimized by her love and McDonough is nothing short of brilliant as Scott and also as Skinner's fearless Southern Mama. Praise as well to Sean Spann, Larry Clarke, Lauren Hillman, Mueen Jahan, Mapuana Makia, Anthony Manough, Ian Merrigan and Lina Patel, all of whom play multiple roles and move with the utmost alacrity guided by John Langs sharp direction and Cassandra Daurden's brisk choreography. The music by Beth Thornley and Rob Cairns nicely suits the fast-paced military ambiance with a special nod to the opening number "Love Conquers All" and the closing tune where the company revert to their bright, eager teenage years to optimistically sign up for duty with Uncle Sam.
Kudos for astounding staging on many levels in this warehouse space to: Francois-Pierre Couture for set, Cricket S. Myers for sound, Jeremy Pivnick for lighting design, Jessica Olson for costumes and Jason H. Thompson for vivid projection design with actual grisly photos of the 2004 atrocities.
This daring Circle X production should and must be seen. It will hopefully proceed to the Kirk Douglas Theatre for fine tuning - some pruning and a suggested combination of Acts II and III - and eventually to Broadway. One last note that lingers in my mind is the theme of love: no matter how kinky or out of the ordinary, shared moments of love were the sanest moments the lead soldiers experienced in Iraq.