'Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter'

Jenny Sutter (Gwendolyn Mulamba) considers her situation at Slab City. 'Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,' by Julie Marie Myatt, is making its world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival's New Theatre.

Jenny Sutter is home from Iraq. She's a 30-year-old Marine, minus her lower right leg. With a mind filled with horrific memories.

Those memories were bad enough while she was overseas. They are unbearable now that she's back in Southern California.

Jenny is struggling to return to civilian life &

from the mundane struggle of putting on a pair of pants to the deeper struggle of finding meaning to her life. Jenny is in no shape to return to Oceanside, where her mother is taking care of her two kids.

How the kindness of strangers and Jenny's own inner strength allow her to finally make an attempt to return to the reality of civilian life is the ambitious subject of "Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter," by Julie Marie Myatt, making its world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival's New Theatre.

On a whim, Jenny decides to accompany the ditsy stranger she meets in the smelly waiting room of a Los Angeles bus station to Slab City. Once there, Jenny finds that Slab City, a ragtag camp ground in the California desert, is chock-a-block full of souls just as lost as she is, each trying to run from their own unpleasant reality.

There is Lou (Kate Mulligan), who never stops talking. Lou is addicted to absolutely everything and frantically trying to quit them all. But she is generous and empathetic and Jenny hooks up with her if only to find a temporary place to alight.

There is Buddy (David Kelly), physically twisted from the abuse he suffered as a child but spiritually straight and gentle. Buddy is the self-appointed preacher to the community, giving a message of love and hope to his unlikely congregation.

There is Donald (Gregory Linington), trying desperately to appear indifferent because he cannot bear to care so much.

And Cheryl (K.T. Vogt), Lou's "therapist," who got her "training" from her experience as a hairdresser in the miniscule desert town of Hemet.

All of these misfits reach out to Jenny in one way or another. And gradually &

against her instincts &

Jenny allows them to get through.

"Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter" is very much a work in progress. Some of it soars and sings as Jenny painfully pulls out of the emotional shell she constructed in order to survive the sights, sounds, smells of Iraq. But the play is preoccupied with portraying the interaction of the other characters. Jenny may be nonverbal and uncommunicative as a result of what she's been through but the play is about her and we need to see and hear more from Jenny herself.

Director Jessica Thebus (from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre) has limned each character beautifully and, of course, she has OSF's extraordinary team to work with.

Gwendolyn Mulamba is absolutely compelling as Jenny, from her quiet triumph at being able to change her clothes to her hesitant attempts to communicate with her new neighbors. Mulamba beautifully conveys Jenny's mostly silent journey and one wishes we could hear more from her about it.

Mulligan, Kelly, Linington, Vogt and Cameron Knight, who has a small part as an inquisitive bus station attendant, provide us with characters equally well drawn and superbly acted.

OSF veteran Richard Hay has designed a spare, nearly empty set, brought to life by Allen Lee Hughes' lighting. Lynn Jeffries designed the costumes.

Playwright Julie Marie Myatt grew up in a military family. She has said that she wanted to explore the experiences of the first generation women who have served in combat positions and who can't simply seamlessly reintegrate into civilian life. OSF reached out to local veterans groups for advice as the production took form.

Just as Jenny Sutter needs this journey &

this time to come to terms with what she's seen, what has been asked of her &

we here at home need to know what she's been through and what she is facing now. Normal civilian life is often scary to combat vets. Jenny Sutter is typical of what our country is seeing in greater and greater numbers.

Share This Story