Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter. Originally produced in 2008 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, it was one of the first works to address the issues faced by returning veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts.
Recently discharged Marine Jenny Sutter (Jenna Rechsteiner) has returned to California after being physically and emotionally wounded in the service of her country. Avoiding actually returning to her home for fear of her family’s reaction to her wounds, a happenstance meeting at a bus station leads her to join Lou (Maureen O’Neill) on a trip to Slab City, CA. It’s an actual location in the Sonoran Desert where squatters and campers have reclaimed an abandoned military base and turned it into a sort of off-the-grid commune.
Jenny soon finds herself surrounded by people dealing with their own damaged lives. There’s Lou, who is dealing with addiction problems (gambling, smoking, sex); Buddy (Geoffrey Nixon), an abuse survivor who fancies himself a preacher (his ordainment came free with a credit check); and Donald (Dylan Kupper), an anti-social jeweler with anger issues. They are all looking for someone or something to believe in, but they – and especially Jenny – need to begin with themselves.
With only six roles to fill from a school full of theatre arts students, Director Wendy Wisely has double-cast every role and has the two casts alternating performances. The opening night cast was fine with particularly warm performances from O’Neill as Jenny’s guide to recovery and Nixon as the sermon-delivering preacher.
With Burbank Auditorium in the thick of renovations, the somewhat-lacking Newman Auditorium hosts this production which translates to minimal set and lighting designs. That’s a shame because the story’s locale provides interesting opportunities for both, though lighting designer Vince Mothersbaugh does manage to do something with the limited resources.
The show is preceded by a slide presentation noting the military service of some of the cast, crew, and SRJC staff and the program notes that there are over 1,000 currently enrolled members of the student population who are active duty, reservists, veterans or their dependents. Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter is a nice salute to them and their families.
‘Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter’ runs Wednesday through Sunday through March 18 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Newman Auditorium. Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8pm; Saturday & Sunday matinees at 2pm.
For more information, go to theatrearts.santarosa.edu