US Premiere of Manning Drama

2016-05-11-1463003334-2745869-5InisNuaTheRadicalisationofBradleyManningPhotobyKoryAversa.jpg (photo:KoryAversa)

Private Chelsea Manning is a transgender woman serving a 35 year sentence at Leavenworth Prison for making public 250,000 classified military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010 when she was then army tech specialist Bradley Manning serving in the Iraq War. In the eyes of the military, she is a condemned traitor, but for others who champion whistle blowers, including Sweden's 2014 nominating Nobel Peace Prize Committee, she is a hero.

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, a bold 2013 play by Welsh playwright Tim Price is in its US premiere by Inis Nua Theater Company in Philadelphia. Inis director Tom Reing orchestrating a visually compelling production at the Drake Theater and directing a uniformly fine ensemble cast. Price's visceral, sometimes surreal theatrical account of the key events leading up to Manning's imprisonment, is more impressive as an incisive character study to investigate what made Manning a born rebel with a cause.

Price intriguingly depicts the psychological journey of Manning, without coming to any quick answers and this device proves powerfully eloquent with this cast, all playing multiple roles, including each portraying Manning at different times. The cast -- Trevor Fayle, David Glover, Campbell O'Hare, David Pica, Isa St. Clair and Johnny Smith -- each bringing out different aspects of Manning's character. There is a lot of stage business and physical demands as the actors play soldiers, officers, lovers, family members and a formidable theatrical boot camp. David Glover, for instance, is a nail-hard drill sergeant and minutes later equally believable a scene later as Manning going through a humiliating interrogation.

It opens with Bradley being dressed and undressed, literally and figuratively, by her platoon mates while they hurl a torrent of accusations and slurs about Manning exposed the realities of atrocities and raw war footage; data that was data is cited by some as being a catalyst for anti-American sentiments in the Mideast.

The play bounces back and forth in time, jarringly at times, to the year Manning spent in a Welsh high school. Johnny Smith conveys so much of Manning's inner turmoil in these scenes and Isa St. Clair is great as the outwardly sympathetic Welsh schoolteacher who nonetheless tries to force Manning to rat out other students for their classroom antics.

In her early 20s, Manning is now stateside trying to get into MIT, while working dead-end jobs. She begs her disdainful father to pay her tuition and her father orders her to join the army to get a free education. Manning signs up and is targeted as the weakest link in boot camp and is continually singled out for rough treatment as a perceived gay soldier under the military's DADT policies. She even joins protests of Prop 8 in California where she meets a grad student and they fall in love.

Manning was targeted and harassed under the military's draconian DADT policies, except when her expertise in the field was needed. She was forced to pretend her boyfriend in the states was a woman to her officers and comrades. Trevor Fayle and David Pica has instant chemistry in Price's economic scenes that establish their relationship and how its emotional reality inspires Manning's convictions.

But the pressures of military life and her delayed career plans continue to weigh on her. She starts rebelling in the military and protest being bullied by fellow soldiers and has a reputation for being difficult and acting out inappropriately, including charges of striking a female officer.

Expected to be dishonorably discharged, her programming skills are deemed too valuable as the wars in the Iraq spirals out of control. She works in intelligence gathering and has clearance in the repository of raw Intel, electronic and video of massive atrocities and questionable missions and cover-ups. Manning turns whistle-blower and releases thousands of pages of documents on the internet, is incarcerated, put on suicide watch and, in Price's narrative, subject to psychological torture by the military.

Some of Price's jarring narrative structure, especially the high school scenes border on redundant. Meanwhile, Reing's physical theater elements, with fight direction by Glover, are consistently inventive. A droning scene of mental torture that keeps hitting the same blunt note is contrasted with an inspired breakout dance denouement to GaGa's LGBTQ anthem "Born This Way."

Gritty set designs by Meghan Jones in tandem with precision video projections by Janelle Kaufmann, sound by Zack McKenna and lighting design by Shon Causer -- all well orchestrated elements -- the disturbing sights and sounds of war, admirably, more thought -- provoking than a device facilitating flashy effects or glorified violence..

Playing through May 15 at The Drake Theater, Philadelphia | http://INISNUATHEATRE.ORG