Broadway blends culture and Corps in "Movin' Out"

30 Apr 2004 | Maj. David C. Andersen

Ten years ago this might have been called a combat zone, but today Times Square, in the heart of New York City, is as far away from Fallujah or An-Nasiriyah as a Marine can get - or is it?On April 7, The New York Times delivered news that some of my Marine brothers had fallen in battle. Like every Marine past and present, and never expecting anyone not having worn my uniform to understand, I immediately felt guilty for not being with my comrades when they were walking in harm's way for people they never met.If we as Marines having served as the actual rifleman or in any other support role feel this way, how must the average or not-so-average supportive citizen feel?I got a chance to find out after a visit to the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway where I was pleasantly surprised by the heavy "Marine content" of Billy Joel's hit and 2003 Tony Award winning play "Movin' Out." Knowing nothing about the play before walking through the entrance and with the heavy news of fighting on my mind, my thoughts wandered during the play to our Marines overseas. One scene took us to the death of "one of us" in Vietnam, although for me it was Fallujah.As I sat there on West 46th Street helplessly watching the death of a Marine in combat and his wife, family and friends subsequently burying him, I then questioned if these actors were also feeling the same way - or was this just a job? So with an interview in place, I went back to the theater wondering if I was going to meet what one may think of as a "typical actor." Then it dawned on me that they may well be thinking somewhat the same thing about me. What I learned was very interesting and most likely extremely typical of any person living in the post 9-11 era. John Selya who plays the lead role of a Marine named "Eddie," and Karine Plantadit-Bageot who plays the lead of "Brenda," both sat down with me prior to a recent Friday night show to discuss their outlook. Selya, a native New Yorker, looks and acts more like he belongs in a squared-away set of dress blues. He immediately impressed me as someone who "felt" what he was doing. "It is an honor to be a Marine on stage. Every night I get a chance to do my part. I represent the Corps the best I can as they definitely deserve the recognition," said Selya.Karine Plantadit-Bageot, exhibited a true and deep conviction saying, "I get a chance to pay homage, literally pay homage every night, to what is going on in the world." It was obvious to me just by listening to her that she sincerely meant what she said and has taken the relationship and consequences of the military and current events to heart.With the foundation set by both actors, Selya quickly took me to the Marine's funeral, what it meant to him, and imagine this, a long-known "marineism"...attention to detail. "I hate it when we let our guard down even a little bit," said Selya. He described that the dancing is not nearly as intensive during the funeral as other scenes and that it bothers him if anyone takes that for granted during the scene. "I want this to be totally accurate to the traditions and illicit a true sense of sympathy from the audience."Plantadit-Bageot, who is not on stage at this moment continued, "I purposely get ready for my next scene quickly so I can be just off-stage and watch the funeral and flag folding. It prepares me for what I am about to do. I look at them in formation and they look like their spirit has been taken away, but then I focus on one set of eyes and an entire person and life jumps out at me."With emotion that was evident all over her, she described, "I get a chance to live in that space every night. An emotional pocket is touched in the audience and within me."The more I spoke with these two top-notch pros, the more I realized that no matter what political calling or background they had, they both now had a tie to the Marine Corps, wanted or not, and were trying to honor and represent us as well as they could. It was easy to see that they had made connections with what they are doing and present real-world events."The gravity of what we were doing all changed on one day," said Selya. Obviously he was referring to the events of 9-11 only a few miles away. His tone focused even closer to home. "I am now even more honored to be doing a piece with such major social relevance.""At that time we were still rehearsing and had to continue during the initial time period of 9-11," stated Plantadit-Bageot. "During the flag folding and other emotional scenes there was not a dry eye in the house. It was very difficult and very relevant."With the serious nature of the play and the obvious reality of them being among the best-of-the-best, I knew that there had to be an extensive preparation and training program they went through before ever setting foot on stage."Our training included hours of drilling along with classes on hand and arm signals," said Selya. "We also watched numerous films on Vietnam to gain any insight we could on that era."Maj. Jake Silberfarb, Fire Support Officer, 25th Marine Regiment and long-time childhood friend of Selya from Manhattan's Upper West Side said, "After I saw the play, the first thing John asked was if they did everything right. He always wanted it to be respectful and authentic."From what I witnessed, they just may have conquered the physical part of this training. The moves, stamina, strength, jumps, falls and low crawls they performed were simply unbelievable by anyone's standards.It is apparent that the creator and director, Twyla Tharp, and musical icon, Billy Joel, have a unique show that blends a few different worlds and cultures on and off stage that seldom ever meet. It is also amazing that these actor's immense talent make it possible for them to actually do justice to our Marine Corps' heritage on stage.My only remaining unanswered question is why did Selya and Plantadit-Bageot settle for only being major stars on the "Great White Way," when with a bit more discipline and perseverance they could have possibly become U.S. Marines?
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