Total Rating: 
June 18, 2017
Something Marvelous
Theater Type: 
Chicago Dramatists
Theater Address: 
1105 West Chicago Avenue
Dana Lynn Formby

The hero of this world-premiere play, former Gunnery Sergeant John Russell — nom de guerre, Johnny 10 Beers (because "nine aren't enough") — is not the first North American white male to find a home in the warrior culture of the United States Marine Corps, nor is he the only military man who, lacking sons, raised his daughter to pledge unswerving loyalty to the creed at the foundation of his call to arms. Be advised, though, that awareness of this precedent will not prepare you for Dana Lynn Formby's exploration of war's hidden toll in Johnny 10-Beers’ Daughter.

We meet Johnny on the bank of Colorado's Poudre River, where he has retired after five tours in Iraq to rest, fish and drink his namesake brews, a pastime occasionally shared by his daughter, Leila, who calls him "Bubba" — sometimes pronounced "BAH-bah" and sometimes "Buh-BAH" — and affirms his animosity toward the ex-Mrs. Russell's new husband. Leila has just graduated from high school, but after the irascible Johnny disapproves of her seeking education or employment within the local economy, enlistment in the USMC is almost inevitable. As we follow the progress of her career (via letters from overseas and visits between deployments), however, we begin to suspect that the ambitious, successful young woman is not what she appears to be.

A teenager at the start of the play, Leila is shown in subsequent scenes as a child striving to please her beloved Dad, before the dramatic action springs forward to trace her gradual evolution into a swaggering, foul-mouthed bully (dubbed "Johnny 10 Beers' Daughter" by her sire's comrades in the field) reveling in the grim jocularity affected by those daily confronting acts of violent atrocity — in other words, becoming exactly like her father.

Is she a phantom, come to upbraid Johnny for his battlefield crimes by infecting the PTSD-racked veteran's alcohol-soaked imagination in order to hijack his very memories of the family he loved? Just when we think we have the answer, Formby's two-character dialogue leads us down a different path.

Randy Steinmeyer and Arti Ishak straddle the arc of a narrative as elusive as a desert mirage with never a stumble under Emmi Hilger's intensive direction, while Nick Lannan's pinpoint-precise replication of military protocol (except for one brief moment precipitated by a costume change) rivets us within the restrictive universe occupied by two generations doomed to seek glory and emerge with only regret.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 5/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
May 2017