Today the military’s policy is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” 65 years ago, at the height of WWII, the official policy was a Dishonorable Discharge and the vindictiveness of some homophobes. Diversionary Theatre is presenting the West Coast premiere of David and Joseph Zellnik’s Yank, the story of gays in the army in WWII.
The title is taken from the popular Yank magazine published by and for the enlisted soldiers during WWII. It had a worldwide circulation of over two and a half million with a readership estimated to be ten million. It actually turned a profit, returning about a million dollars to the War Department.
Stu (Tom Zohar) takes us on a tour of duty from enlistment to the front lines in the Pacific. Director Igor Goldin’s set is a series of simple stretched canvas panels tied to steel frames. Two of the structures are easily moved, changing the configuration of the stage to fit the staging.
In basic training we all learned that “Polishing Shoes” that did not have a spit-shine usually required extra duty. We learned that one screw-up guy meant that we all would suffer. Stu learned this quickly, usually under a cloud of fear of some of his contemporaries.
Amy Biedel is responsible for all of the female roles, which includes the song styling of many of the favorite canaries of the war area with names like Helen and Dinah and Estelle. Their radio broadcasts and USO tours brought the troops a few moments of happiness with songs like “Saddest Gal What Am,” and the memorable “Blue Twilight.” She also stars in a simulated propaganda film produced to garner support for the war effort. Biedel does some quick costume changes. She seems to have a new wig for every entrance.
Another morale jolt was the pinup photos of the stars as remembered in “Betty,” as the guys traded photos.
Stu makes it to the staff of Yank as a photographer, with the help of Artie (Eric Dowdy). Yank is very much about relationships, both licit and illicit (by military standards). Stu and Mitch (Tom Doyle) have an on/off relationship. The men he went through training with (played by John Whitley, Juston Harlin, Rocky DeHaro, Jacob Caltrider, Trevor Peringer, and Tony Houck) and their hard-nosed sergeant (John Whitley) and Lieutenant (Sven Salumaa), who handed out the tough assignments, form the support structure every GI needs. This support structure, though, has its share of homophobes.
The public saw Yank for the first time in 2005 and again in October, 2007. This production has some interesting special and sound effects. It also has very nice balance between Amy Dalton and Nathan Hubbard’s music and the voices.
Yank offers its audiences a look at the past with the song-styling and the dance, which includes a tasty touch of tap. Jeffry Denman’s original choreography is recreated by the director. Yank, with 18 songs, many full production numbers with creative choreography, is (at one level) pure enjoyment and (at another level) a look at the homophobic history of the U.S. and especially that of the military. The entertainment is high and the message is subtle. Diversionary has another winner in Yank.
Amy Biedel, Zachary Bryant, Jacob Caltrider, Rocky DeHaro, Eric Dowdy, Tom Doyle, Juston Harlin, Tom Houck, Trevor Peringer, Sven Salumaa, John Whitley, Tom Zohar
Choreographer Jeffry Denman & recreated by Igor Goldin, Accompanist Amy Dalton, Percussionist Nathan Hubbard, Sound/Scenic Design Igor Goldin, Costume Design SD/Women’s Costumes Jennifer Brawn Gittings, Costume Design Brooklyn original Tricia Barsamian, Lighting Design Mia Bane Jacobs, Props David Medina, Wigs Missy Bradstreet, Consulting Prod Matt Schicker, PM Bret Young, SM Chris Powell, Asst SM Brian Skipper, Dance Captain Ericc Dowdy, Asst Costume Design SD Kate Stallons
Author: Book & Lyrics David Zellnik, Music Joseph Zellnik
Director: Igor Goldin, Musical Direction Amy Dalton
Date Reviewed: July 19, 2008
Dates: Thursday to Sunday thru August 17, 2008
Running Time: 132 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Caution: Some nudity, language
4545 Park Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92116
Box Office Phone: 619 220-0097