Reviewed by Lynn Houston
Runs until October 15th, 2017 at The Wild Project, 195 E. 3rd Street, New York
In the middle of Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim, the character Marlow faces a narrative crisis when he finds it difficult to reconcile the information about Jim’s life he has gathered from a variety of sources. He is sure of one thing, however, regarding Jim’s travels, “that for each of us, going home must be like going to render an account.” J.A. Moad, in his richly layered play Outside Paducah: The Wars at Home, solves the narrative confusion at the heart of Conrad’s classic by providing us with three linked heroes that each tell their own stories in different contexts. The result involves the same trope of “homecoming as accounting” referenced by Marlow in Lord Jim, which Moad employs with great skill to deliver a message about the bitter loss of ideals among working-class men.
Outside Paducah is being billed as an exploration of the effects of PTSD on returning soldiers, and it certainly accomplishes this objective with a coherent artistic vision comprised of cultural sensitivity and historical grounding. The play traces an arc of U.S. military service from the Civil War, to World War II, through Vietnam, and Iraq. The secondary story lines reinforce the main themes in the lives of the main characters: in Act II “Cairo,” the father begging for a loan recalls an incident at a school near his son’s—a boy who opened fire on a prayer circle, killing three girls. Similarly, the images projected during the play contribute to its historical complexity—a newspaper headline flashes on the wall: “JFK shot by sniper.” The play broadens a discussion of PTSD to the larger issue of gun culture and toxic masculinity.