Exquisite Corpse was an emotional tour de force. It is not the play that explores the intricacies of warfare and recovery of the average soldier, but it is the visualization of the problems with the prospect of war itself. To explain a little bit better, Exquisite Corpse’s two single acts are about respectively, the emotional toll that is taken on soldiers when a good cause has high costs, and when the right reaction to a bad situation is not just. The writing is wonderful, the dialogue is organic, and the symbolic elements were well chosen and felt appropriate. The cast outperformed my every expectation, with a particular respect to sophomore Augustus Miltenberger, and junior Simone Levine, though to say that they were the best in the ensemble would be unfair to the rest of the cast. Every performance, from the acts to the movement pieces, was emotional and, for lack of a better word, exquisitely written and performed.
The first act started slow, a conversation between two soldiers, but eventually evolved into a battle for a small town. The performances of Miltenberger and first-year Adam Van Stone, were supremely dichotic. Augustus’ excited, world-weary, but energetic sergeant Jay to Adam’s monotone, seemingly naïve infantryman Richard created a great comparison, and emphasized the aspects of the other. Then the change in Jay when he gets home was great; the racist gung-ho war hawk in Iraq is a big picture purist at home. I think it is a great show of the rationalizations that happen in the minds of soldiers to fit the situations they are in. When they are abroad, anger keeps them and hate for enemies motivates them. Going back requires a want to change things for the better. Your anger is displaced because there is no one constantly attacking you and your hatred is thousands of miles away. To rationalize going back there must mean some drive towards good, rather than just saying it’s because it’s all you know.
The first act was preluded by and followed by two movement pieces. They were extraordinary and well performed, primarily being performed by a number of talented people in the ensemble, but the one that focused on drone strikes was the only spot in the play that I disagreed with. I am a proponent of drone strikes on principle. I believe they are more effective and targeted than bombing runs, and put fewer lives at risk. The main point that I disagreed with was the inaccuracy of the statement they made about drone strikes. The members of the play stated that any male of fighting age is a potential terrorist as if they were the U.S government. This is only the case of the policy in a few situations, and those areas in which it is true are generally recognized as terrorist Al Qaeda or ISIS training grounds. Drone strikes result in less collateral damage, both human and physical, than the alternative which is bombing runs. Ideally though the perfect situation would be neither, but given the two options, drones are the better of the two devils.
The second act was crushing. It starts as a success story of a town liberated from the Taliban in Afghanistan, and had light hearted jokes and humor and general positivity in contrast with the first act. Even when the act took an odd turn and the confused soldier Sergio, played by junior Brandon Young, his interaction with the two sisters played by Levine and junior Hannah Dickmyer, was still genial and funny at times. However things were not as they seem, and it is revealed that all three died, Meena at the hands of Sergio, and Aliya as well by association, and Sergio died in a car bomb just after. The twist was unexpected and powerful, and the interactions of the three after were emotional and heart-wrenching. Exquisite Corpse is the kind of beautiful that leaves you with a tear in your eye and a pit in your stomach, and I can give it nothing but the highest of praise.