Year One of the Empire, staged by the Metropolitan Playhouse, may bring back memories of your high-school history teacher. Not the cool one with the hands-on projects, but the one who made you stay up late memorizing the names of who-cares suffragettes and the exact dates of the Crimean War (1853-56).
Written entirely in language taken from original documents (letters, articles, and dispatches from the Philippine-American War), the piece replays 50 years of American involvement in the Philippines in a mere two hours. Unfortunately, the two hours feel like 50 years. Elinor Fuchs and Joyce Antler, who co-wrote the script during the Vietnam War, intended their work to demonstrate how quickly the brutal lessons of history are forgotten. But the themes of the play—the atrocities of war, political folly, and imperial ambition—fail to resonate because they’re buried beneath the rubble of dates, facts, and trivia.
The performance is best when civilians Mr. Dooley (Michael Durkin) and Mr. Hennessey (Mikel Sarah Lambert) deliver some much-needed comic relief (“I can’t annex [the Philippines]. I don’t even know where they are!”). But these scenes aren’t enough to counteract the monotony of multiple re-enactments of Senate debates and Michael Hardart’s blaring Teddy Roosevelt, which leave you staring at the clock waiting for the bell to ring.