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"American Soldiers" by Matt Morillo

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Stu Richel and Kate Reilly in "American Soldiers," a new play by Matt Morillo in whcih the patriarch of a politically prominent Long Island family fights to hold the family together when his eldest daughter, an Army veteran, returns from the Middle East for an uneasy homecoming. Photo by Jonathan Slaff
In "American Soldiers," a new play written and directed by Matt Morillo, the patriarch of a politically prominent Long Island family fights to hold the family together when his eldest daughter, an Army veteran, returns from the Middle East for an uneasy homecoming. The girl, emotionally scarred from her military service, is struggling to take her ex-boyfriend and sister away with her to start a new life in Colorado. Her aim is to liberate them of the hometown influences of society, religion and class that led her to enlist. The play reveals the urge of children to break away, the power of family destiny and the emotional ties that bind.

This family drama breaks new ground for playwright Morillo, who up to now has made his reputation with comedies ("Angry Young Women in Low Rise Jeans with High Class Issues," "All Aboard the Marriage Hearse"). Theater for the New City has been Morillo's creative home since 2006, when Morillo and the cast of "Angry Young Women…" presented an excerpt from it there as part of the Lower East Side Festival of the Arts. "American Soldiers" is his third new work to debut there.

Matt Morillo was born and raised in Hicksville, Long Island and like many of his generation, he carries around its heritage with some discomfort. The characters of this play reverberate with the voices of rebellion, patriotism, faith and anger he has overheard on the LIRR, in stores and bars, and just about everywhere that Long Islanders gather. Morillo has been brewing the play for about two years, prompted by feeling that American suburbanites accept inevitable futures based on old-fashioned and out of date mores, in defiance of the possibility of individual choice.

What is it about Nassau and Suffolk counties that makes them a breeding ground for "good little American soldiers," as Angela Coletti, the returning veteran, says? Her late mother had been a local Assemblywoman and her brother, Carlo Jr., is now running for a congressional seat. They are liberal politicians and "modern" Catholics, chastened by the wars of our time, who would seem to hold the old beliefs at arms' length. But to Angela, they are no more than cogs in a machine of conformity whose morals make no sense and who perpetuate dangerous myths.

The force of her rebellion is set against the determination of her father, a Vietnam Veteran who is equally committed to holding the family together. His methods range from the good old fatherly temper tantrum to the kind of heart-to-heart with his soldier-daughter that only veterans can have. Through their tug of war, we witness the real forces that keep many of our young people fighting what Angela calls, "the same fight, generation after generation."  It's the power of family and the hold of religion.

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Matt Morillo. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
Originally a filmmaker, Matt Morillo made an auspicious theatrical debut in 2006 with "Angry Young Women In Low Rise Jeans With High Class Issues," which is currently playing a revival at Theater for the New City (through December 20). His next play, the slightly more serious "All Aboard the Marriage Hearse" (TNC, 2008), was also extremely successful. Both plays have been issued by Samuel French Inc., making Morillo one of very few playwrights who've had their first two plays immediately published. In January, 2009 at TNC, he directed "Stay Over," a comedy he wrote with Maria Micheles, about what can happen to you when trying to make up after an infidelity. "American Soldiers" is Morillo's first family drama since his days as a filmmaker and his first work since then that completely forsakes the comedic form.

Prior to his theatrical shift, Morillo was a fixture on the New York independent film scene for ten years. He debuted at 23 with his romantic comedy, "The Pretenders," a film with a cast of unknowns and a non-existent budget that became an enjoyable, funny and ultimately touching film about twenty-somethings struggling with life's ups and downs. His next project, "Good Tidings," was a fifteen-minute short film about a young girl suffering through her parents' divorce. It received great praise at film festivals for its realism and honesty. Morillo's third film, "Maid Of Honor," was a true breakthrough. A twenty-five minute comedy about a simple guy trying to hook up with the maid of honor at a wedding, it was a hit on the festival circuit, winning three awards, playing to sold-out theaters and leaving audiences laughing and begging for copies of the film.

"American Soldiers" will be directed by Matt Morillo and performed by Kate Reilly, Tom Pilutik, Stu Richel, Nick Coleman and Julia Giolzetti. Set design is by ­Mark Marcante. Lighting design is by Amith A. Chandrashaker. Assistant director is Nick Coleman.

Performances are January 14 to 31, 2010 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (at E. 10th Street) in Manhattan's East Village. The schedule is Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM.Tickets are $20 general admission Thursdays through Saturdays; Sundays pay what you can. Box office info call SMARTTIX at 212-868-4444; online ticketing is available at: www.theaterforthenewcity.net.

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