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THEATER REVIEW: "Healing Wars"

War is almost too much with us to be able to bear “Healing Wars,” Liz Lerman’s multimedia consideration of its devastating effects on survivors. But it’s a remarkable piece (with some dialogue) that concentrates on interpreting the war experience (from Civil War through Iraq) and its aftermath primarily through dance and projections.

“Healing Wars” plays through Oct. 25 as part of La Jolla Playhouse’s WOW (Without Walls) Festival.

The experience begins with a walk through the backstage area, where a series of scenes illustrate Civil War scenes – nurse Clara Barton (Tamara Hurwitz Pullman); a female Civil War soldier (I didn’t know that some 400 women served in the Civil War, dressed as men); a violent veteran locked in a room at home because he could not get into an asylum.

When the audience is seated, we meet Miko Doi-Smith, a spirit. “I help people die,” she says. “My office is the battlefield.”

What follows is almost stream-of-consciousness in its seeming randomness – a surgeon talks of Fallujah; there is talk of early anesthesia, used as a recreational drug before its medical uses were discovered; an IED explosion is shown in dance; a shrink asks a veteran “Have you been feeling numb or like you have no loving feelings for anyone?”

And, perhaps most poignant of all, Navy veteran Paul Hurley (who lost a leg in Bahrain) is onstage to describe his experience and remind us of the difficult present for many veterans.

The cast of eight (five were in the original production at Washington’s Arena Stage) is excellent, playing on David Israel Reynoso’s spare set with hospital beds hanging above the stage, and augmented by Kate Freer’s projections.

The dialogue (mostly written by committee – the performers) is interesting but not nearly as evocative or moving as their performance of Lerman’s fine choreography.

“Healing Wars” is a bit difficult to watch, but worth every minute. The WOW Festival runs Oct. 9-11. More information at: http://www.lajollaplayhouse.org/wowfestival/

The details

"Healing Wars” plays Through Oct. 25 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Forum, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive (on the UCSD campus).

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (858) 550-1010 or lajollaplayhouse.org

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.