The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings





Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants









Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review

I'm still looking for a good clean fight. --- Lt.Colonel Littlefield
You dumb son of a bitch. There's no such thing ---Margaret Littlefield

Chris ChalkStephen Lang in <i>Defiance</i>
Chris Chalk & Stephen Lang in Defiance
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Sometimes playwrights tag a body of work as a trilogy without there being enough of a connecting link to substantiate that description. Not so for John Patrick Shanley's Defiance. This second play in a projected trilogy which, as he puts it "explores specifics of my life story as it overlaps with major changes in the social fabric of this country" is clearly and powerfully connected to its predecessor, Doubt. Shanley's personal history includes attendance at a Bronx Catholic high school in the 60s (Doubt) and duty at Camp Lejeune (Defiance) from 1970 to 1972.

Being the potential middle child of this trilogy, Defiance arrives at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II both blessed and burdened. On the plus side, it rides into town on a wave of good will created by Doubt's well deserved super success as a provocative and superbly written new play with wide audience appeal: It won last year's Pulitzer Prize for drama; also launched at Manhattan Theatre Club's Off-Broadway Stage II, it transferred to Broadway where it continues to run. On the minus side, audiences and critics who loved Doubt, are likely to use it as a measuring stick for their expectations, especially with such surface similarities as the single word "D" titles. (Defiance actually started out as Chain of Command), and same ninety uninterrupted minute structure. That would be too bad. While Defiance is not quite as flawless as Doubt, it is nevertheless a stimulating, beautifully written drama. As such, it stands on its own, yet gains strength and richness when viewed as part of Shanley's cyclic master plan.

Having Doug Hughes and the Doubt design team again shepherd the play to its debut, far from being a cause for nitpicking comparisons, adds an exhilarating continuity to the presentation as well as the content. Defiance once again unfolds within a very specific location of a hierarchical institution, in this case the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune paralleling the author's time of duty there. That time frame moves us a decade forward from Doubt, to another set of events and social changes that exacerbate the tensions in the lives of Defiance's characters.

The Vietnam War is limping along and the recruiters are scraping the bottom of the barrel because of the lack of enlistees eager to risk their lives for a battle not worth fighting for, which includes the son of long time career officer Lt.Colonel Littlefield (Stephen Lang). Add to that a rising tide of racial incidents, "black power" rumblings among the African-American members of the Corps -- not to mentiona precursor of the increasing dominance of the religious right via a smarmy Evangelical, homily spouting chaplain (Chris Bauer). Littlefield shrewdly sees Lee King (Chris Chalk), a young black captain as someone to help him quell the racial tensions. King would prefer to stay "invisible" and feels he is being used; but, like it or not, the rules of the game make it impossible for him not to move from his Judge Advocate's post to becoming Littlefield's protegé and right-hand man.

Margaret Colin &Stephen Lang in <i>Defiance</i>
Margaret Colin & Stephen Lang in Defiance
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
As it happens both men are veterans of wars that have left them deeply troubled. Littlefield, even though he's approaching retirement age, has not given up on finding "one good, clean fight" and moving beyond the rank he seems frozen in, whereas King buried such dreams when another man with that name was assassinated. In short, the older man is still scrappy and full of fire in the belly not quite ready to heed to the urgings of his wife (Margaret Colin wonderful as a steel magnolia too bright to have played second fiddle to her husband's career) to enjoy life. The younger man, on the other hand, is driven only by a need to just move through his tour of duty with as little fuss as possible.

Given the issue-laced incidents that Shanley has packed into seven terse scenes and the scrappy Littlefield's insistently can-do brand of leadership, the two men are bound for a collision that will cause even the quiet and very proper King to explode. The title comes from that explosive scene when Littlefield warns King against his act of defiance with "defiance is not enough" and King snaps back, "It's all I've got." This being a concise version of the good old-fashioned well-made play, you can expect some over-the-top emotionalism from the key players and a melodramatic surprise finale Littlefield's enlistment of King backfires through his misconduct (yes, a sexual indiscretion) and his unwisely antagonizing the chaplain, during the set-up scenes.

Shanley's writng a well-made play with a punched up melodramatic climax at a time when such playwriting is considered to be passé is in itself an act of defiant courage that proves to be still workable thanks to the fine performances of the lead players. Trevor Long's sad sack cuckolded private is somewhat less than convincing as it's unlikely that someone like this would have ever made the cut during training -- as if to prove it, in his scene in King's office he turns rather than about faces and then steps off on the wrong foot.

While Defiance doesn't leave its audience in doubt about its downbeat conclusion, it nevertheless leaves plenty to talk about, especially with another war going on that has disillusioned all still clinging to the dream of a "good, clean fight."

In case you didn't notice it in the program notes, John Patrick Shanley's biography includes an invitation to send your reaction to his email: -- how wonderfully un-Bushlike! We'd welcome hearing what some of you who take advantage of Shanley's accessibility have to tell him.

Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Doug Hughes
Cast: Chris Bauer (Chaplain White), Chris Chalk (Capt. Lee King), Margaret Colin (Margaret Littlefield), Stephen Lang (Lt. Col. Morgan Littlefield), Trevor Long (Gunnery Sergeant) and Jeremy Strong (Pfc. Evan Davis).
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Pat Collins
Original Music & Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission
Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I. MTC at New York City Center, Stage II, 131 West 55th Street (212)
From 2/09/06 to 4/30/06--extended to 5/07/06; opening 2/28.
Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets: $65
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on March 1st performance
Stage Plays
The Internet Theatre Bookshop "Virtually Every Play in the World" --even out of print plays

Playbill Broadway Year Book
The new annual to dress up every Broadway lover's coffee table

broadway musicals: the 101 greatest shows of all time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from