“Bad Apples” Now Showing at ACT’s Falls Theatre

“We tortured him for 16 days before he died. It was then we found out he was on our side.”

Shocking! Horrifying! Oh yes! “Bad Apples by Jim Leonard isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s an ode to the “banality of evil” to use Hannah Arendt’s words. It takes a hard look at reasonable people committing unreasonable atrocities. Certainly much of the torture American soldiers perpetrated on suspects in the Baghdad prison, Abu Ghraib, was extreme. It doesn’t matter that the stressed American soldiers were living in horrible and dangerous circumstances. Actually these soldiers weren’t even regular military. They were modestly trained National Guard members.

And what were the rules for interrogating suspected enemy informants or combatants? One might infer that there were no rules in Abu Ghraib. When no rules exist, people easily lose their civilized patina and behavior degenerates. It becomes a pervasive phenomenon. Director John Langs makes sure his production gives audiences the fullest sense of that breakdown.

There’s not much to enjoy in an isolated prison camp in wartime, so sex becomes a major recreational form. Carlton Byrd as Chuck, the super handsome, supper buff, super self-confident soldier manages to get all he wants and more. He and the rest of the cast are, for the most part, spellbinding. But note that Byrd and a number of the other actors are from out of town. They appeared in the original Los Angeles production. Seattle actors fill out the cast.

“Bad Apples” is a rock musical that explores the conditions, the backgrounds of the soldiers, and their interrelationships. The music and lyrics by Beth Thornley and Rob Cairns thunder through the auditorium, providing the appropriate mood for army maneuvers, romantic intervals, obscene cruelty, and leisure time. It’s potent but there’s almost too much of it.

We all know that many of our servicemen and women are from the south. It is unfortunate, however, to portray almost all the enlisted men and women here as southern country boys and girls with limited education and sophistication. Of course the armed services provides a pathway for young people who have no other options, but there was just a bit too much attention here to stereotypic southern yokels.

The play itself is overlong. Its messages are incredibly powerful, but they might have been presented just as effectively in a shortened form. At three hours it was too much for me. But if you like your theatre long and loud, you’ll find much to please you here.

Through Sept. 25 at the Falls Theatre at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

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