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The road to Tikrit is paved with good intentions in The Sand Storm: Stories From the Front, an ambitiously nuanced, obviously heartfelt, theatrically inert evening of war stories that ex-Marine Sean Huze dedicates to the troops with whom he recently served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. You may well agree with the sentiments of Huze’s 10 war-is-hell monologues, and you may empathize with the variously shattered characters speaking them, but in the show’s D.C. debut, his tales of warriors battling internal conflict get thoroughly muddied in the telling. Pride of purpose butts heads with moral anguish, honor with doubt, fear with courage, rage with dedication. The Sand Storm was well-received in Los Angeles, and the author has gotten some press for his mission of getting it a hearing just a couple of miles from the Pentagon. MetroStage is even offering free admission to any uniformed military personnel who happen to show up, but it’s hard to see what might attract the folks actually prosecuting the Iraqi occupation. Huze’s message that war tends to knock the innocence out of idealistic young warriors is hardly an eye-opener, and the production is too bare-bones—raked stage, wire-mesh backdrop, lighting that only occasionally illuminates faces—to offer much in the way of spectacle. Nor is there a lot of persuasive acting going on, partly because a somewhat inexperienced cast has been very clumsily directed by Brett Smock, and partly because the author has provided dialogue so writerly (“I looked forward to the challenges ahead with a zeal I can only ascribe in retrospect to…”) that it’s hard to imagine how the locutions might be made to sound like something someone would actually say. It doesn’t help that Huze doesn’t vary speech patterns much—an Ivy League ROTC grad sounds no more nor less erudite than a Hispanic kid who entered the service as a way of staying out of jail. And when the soldiers in the first two vignettes take an identical tack in explaining, through tears, that they were unaffected by battle carnage until they stopped to consider the pain of a single civilian, it seems the author is also determined to be consistent in his use of narrative form. The later stories turn out to be more varied, though the men’s reluctance to tell them becomes a bit of a production fetish. (An MC has been provided to urge them at crucial moments to “feel it…let it in…tell the story.”) They mostly sound like essayists when they do—sometimes anguished, sometimes angry, but never very theatrical.

—Bob Mondello