In case you have bought the way World War II’s “greatest generation” has been idealized, playwright Sharr White now asks theatergoers to see those noble souls in a new, darker light. His melodramatic play Six Years considers the plight of that generation through the microcosm of shattered war veteran Phil Granger and his anguished wife, Meredith.
We observe them in five scenes, separated in time by, yup, six years, ranging from the opening vignette in 1949 through to 1973. While the play centers on the Grangers’ relationship, their situation is informed by the souring of America, as Six Years moves from the post-World War II optimism to the anti-establishment rebellion of the ’60s to the national schism of the Vietnam era.
Sour is also an apt adjective for Phil and Meredith’s marriage. Challenged by the forced separation when he went off to war, it is further jeopardized by the emotional damage he incurs in battle, diagnosed dismissively by the military as “exhaustion.” When we first see Phil, he is glassy-eyed with catatonic bewilderment, unable to put a full sentence together, a condition from which he never fully recovers over the play’s quarter-century.
For that matter, the marriage never progresses much, in the face of Phil’s disorder, Meredith’s infidelities and the strain of their sketchily written son, who grows up eager to fly off to Vietnam, perhaps to face his father’s fate or worse. Perhaps because of the episodic nature of the script’s five brief scenes, White is never able to impart much depth to his characters and the effect is disappointingly soap-operatic.
What’s worse, so little changes for the two of them — Phil remains rudderless and confused and Meredith is awfully shrill throughout – and that has a way of keeping us at arm’s length from the characters.
Despite the underwritten role, Todd Allen Durkin manages to draw the audience into Phil’s plight with a performance of aching extremes, from deadened expressions to fits of rage. In contrast, Margery Lowe’s Meredith is settles for a single note of strident anger, where White surely did not intend to turn the audience off to her.
The always interesting Gregg Weiner lends solid, though thankless, support as Meredith’s brother and Betsy Graver makes a lot of her single scene as an airport cocktail lounge pick-up, initially drawn to the transparently lonely Phil.
Maybe the summer production budget was insufficient (or maybe most of the money went to Michael McKeever’s Stuff), but this is the first Tim Bennett scenic design in memory that looks so cheap and generic. Better are the period costumes by Alberto Arroyo, aided by a succession of wigs that help emphasize the march of time.
Still, the clothes are not enough to fill in the empty spaces in the characters of the story line, and Six Years is not enough to hold our interest — or our empathy — for its amble through time.