When veterans return from their tours, they invariably re-enter worlds as unfamiliar and challenging to them as the war scenarios they have left behind. Raw Bacon from Poland is one veteran’s journey from the horrors of Tikrit back to the horrors of his own life, wading his way through multiple levels of loss and forced to rely on a complex government system that both constrains and saves him. In a tight play with actors performing multiple roles, this resonant piece brings life to the news stories about veterans’ struggles and the larger issues of psychological trauma and a cumbersome VA system that can straightjacket even the toughest soldier.
Already angry, violent, macho, and proud, Dennis’s many issues – from divorce and custody battles to drug addiction and poverty – are compounded by PTSD, and the details of his problematic life trickle out beautifully with humor and explosiveness by actor Joel Perez in the lead. Against the set of a shoe store which also serves as a veterans’ clinic, the play effortlessly transitions as psychologists, friends, and coworkers circle and attempt to buttress him against a life clearly in decline. His violent outbursts cost him his literal and financial freedom, and he ends up as an in-patient in a clinic with treatments he initially rejects.
Kate Benson as Dennis’s doctor delivers a sense of urgency and hard reality to his plight. Her character pivots from empathy to cynicism as she attempts to guide him through a complicated system of laws, doctors, and the ramifications of his worst behaviors. She plays another character who is also suffers from mental illness but by virtue of money alone is allowed freedoms he cannot have. Here playwright Masciotti underscores the flaws in “the system” and its inequities.
Joel Perez does an outstanding job as Dennis, as the character balks at the absurdity of in-patient care (coloring books, rap sessions, yoga balls!) to embracing real breakthroughs as a father, a soldier, and a man. As the play progresses he manages to accept his flaws and rally against the odds. By agreeing to allow his daughter to be adopted by another family, he finds the meaning of fatherhood. One line in particular sums up his transformation: “I’m about to bust out of my clothes and turn into a green hawk.”
Director Ben Williams has taken an awkward space and found creative uses for it. Odd cut-throughs in the wall and catwalks are illuminated for war scenes. Entire pieces of the set crumple as literal examples of Dennis’s explosive personality. In a scene of induced flashbacks, Williams has Dennis sit with his back to the audience, then reverses so we can see his face as he remembers the events that triggered his PTSD. A beautiful young girl appears periodically throughout the play as his daughter who he cannot save (literally bringing tears to his eyes) and the young girl of Tikrit who he also could not save.
An illuminating work of a veteran struggling to get out of the fringes, this is a fast-paced, moving, timely play that brings a humanity to the veteran’s plight, executed with sensitivity and creativity.