SummerWorks 2014: Unknown Soldier Review

Unknown Soldier

Unknown Soldier

Juried Series

Although boasting an electrifying performance from Jeff Ho in the lead of this one man show, writer/director/producer Jonathan Seinen’s fictionalized take on the struggles faced by imprisoned American soldier and whistleblower Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley) is a well intentioned mixed bag that actually does better when it goes a bit off topic.

Ho plays the Manning surrogate on a spare stage while the character recounts the events and charges that resulted in imprisonment. Bouncing back and forth between the ex-soldier’s military career, personal life, and current solitude under suicide watch (with only a voice intoning “Are you okay?” every several minutes to signal external interjection) the show looks at the stress faced by someone undergoing major life changes while also facing massive amounts of prosecution from an angry government.

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Ho performs wonderfully throughout, especially in the show’s brief moments of joy when the character recounts their time outside of the military. But the show itself seems scared of something by just not coming out and saying this is Manning’s story.

Factually, the show skews so rigidly to Manning that it even at one point uses the infamous and now sadly well known audio from one of the leaked videos. Every detail about Manning leaking war logs and sensitive information to WikiLeaks is here in perfect detail, yet neither word is mentioned.

That might be because in the show’s better moments (the ones don’t feel like a regurgitation of facts) everything has been hypothesized. It casts a pall over the rest of the show that I couldn’t shake. Instead of a historical play or a work of pure fiction, the show very uncomfortably feels like it’s putting words in the mouth of someone that can’t defend herself and then backing away at the final moment. It’s well acted and staged, but also quite frustrating for anyone who already knows the Manning case intimately.

Remaining Performances at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue):

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Monday August 11, 4:30pm (with post-show talk)
Tuesday August 12, 9:00pm
Wednesday August 13, 9:30pm
Thursday August 14, 6:30pm (with post-show talk)
Friday August 15, 9:30pm
Saturday August 16, 5:00pm

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