Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rep's 'Mia' Needs More Depth

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rep's 'Mia' Needs More Depth

Article excerpt

Love the set! -- although it can be a bad sign if that's what you most want to praise, or, as in this case, if it makes such a strong interpretative statement that you hardly need the play.

But Bruce J. Robinson's "MIA," although slow and awkwardly expository to start, does gradually get going in Act 2, taking a few turns you might not quite expect. Still, it's mainly a familiar drama of a family facing buried truths (think Arthur Miller, whether "Death of a Salesman" or "All My Sons"), and it never digs very deep.

Fortunately, there's the acting, good solid (and occasionally more) work from dependable local pros.

The title, "MIA," as we might be expected to know but the subtitle takes care to clarify anyway, means missing in action. Like most good titles, it works a couple of ways. Son Michael's plane crashed in the Indian Ocean 16 years ago, and he is still, technically, MIA. But so, in a powerful sense, is his father, Frank, who insulates himself against that loss with a pain-denying patriotism. And mother Emmy and siblings Maura and Randy are missing in various ways, as well.

Hence Anne Mundell's intriguing set, with its simple platforms, tables and chairs all softly draped in the enveloping light brown sand of the Mideast. Similarly enveloped are a simple gravestone, never quite finished, and a large, vaguely triumphal sculpture. Sand muffles and obscures, but it also softens. By analogy, the Schooler family's pain, both past and present, is half buried/softened by the sands of time and avoidance.

But that stasis can't last, or where would be the conflict? The local VFW is about to honor Frank as the MIA activist of the year, which bares long-shrouded emotions. And the real engine of conflict is the youngest child, Randy, who doesn't want to go to college but decides, against his parents' emotional will, to enlist. He wants to share the glory of the brother (17 years older) he never knew.

The family's careful structure of avoidance topples. The greatest conflict is within the central figure, father Frank, where life and love wage war with a desperate pride in his older son's patriotism. This is the stuff of drama. But the dialogue is often stiff, and even when the play gets going, it never pushes Frank and the family as it might. …

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