In March of 2003 the United States began an almost two-month long invasion of Iraq dubbing the operation “Iraqi Freedom.” While in Iraq, the United States took control of a prison in a suburb called Abu Ghraib. There in the infamous cell block of Tier 1-A, three U.S. soldiers tortured Iraqi prisoners documenting the process with photos. These photos would eventually make their way to Dan Rather and CBS’s “60 Minutes.” This series of events, and the stories of these three soldiers, dubbed the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal, have been transcribed into the new original rock musical entitled Bad Apples. This show just concluded its limited engagement run at ACT – A Contemporary Theater, as part of the ACTLab program.
However, if you thought this was a show where they pulled finger nails and tortured people to the death, you have the wrong idea. Remember those three US Soldiers that I mentioned above? Well the show follows their romance, yes you heard me correctly, throughout this chaotic time in history. These three soldiers loved, tortured, and survived together at a place the show entitles, Camp Redemption, or “a little slice of heaven.”
But before I get to much into the story of the show, I want to touch on the technical elements. The set was fine and did the trick, it provided director John Langs with different heights to play with and ways of splitting up the stage. However, the cabaret seating that was used, took away about four feet of play space on the stage, and didn’t really work. In honesty the lost space could most certainly have been utilized for certain moments, as some looked a little squished. Also in my opinion, this was not the type of show in which the audience should be sipping beer in the front row.
Yet, both the costumes and lighting design of this show shine. The costumes successfully transformed the nine different cast members (the show was ensemble heavy and most people doubled up on many parts, except the three leads) to each of their different roles.
The lighting was fun, and provided a fun rock musical vibe to go along with the show, while still isolating the sincere moments throughout.
Another intriguing aspect of the show was the band. There were only three live players, a drummer, bassist, and guitar player. The rest was done by tracks with electronic instruments which was then mixed with the live band.
Another strength that I would like to bring to light is the ensemble itself. This show did it well and did it right. The ensemble up the mass of characters with whom the three lead characters interacted. Some of the highlights were Frederick Hagreen’s role of Cunny. Throughout all four stunning monologues and several songs you felt for that character. This was only to be matched by the powerhouse voices of both Mari Nelson and Andi Alhadeff, both excellently highlighted in this show. However, these three are only a third of the cast, that made this show shine the way it did.
As for the show as a whole, simply put, I liked Bad Apples. There were some beautiful and hilarious moments like the sing-a-long opening to Act 2, or the beautiful hymn-like song entitled Home. Yet, honestly this was a show you see to take away the veil of mystery surrounding these events, not to try and put favor towards the US or what was done there. Whiles some of the show may have been excessive or far-fetched it was only done so to make sure that by the end, every member of the audience was feeling something. So while it was a long show at roughly three hours including two intermissions, I definitely left the theater feeling something, and hey isn’t that the point of theater in the first place?
Bad Apples played at ACT- A Contemporary Theater from September 7th-25th, 2016
Photo: Jeff Carpenter