For Holly (Hollis Witherspoon), the area behind the Walmart is a dangerous place. Perhaps it’s not as treacherous as Iraq, where her boyfriend Matt (Eric Bland) now serves and where his brother Mike (Ryan Holsopple) was injured, nor as perilous as Kuwait, where her coworker Frank (D.J. Mendel) once fought. But in 31 Down’s Here at Home, at the Bushwick Starr, various voices have picked this place to menace Holly with their tales of battle abroad and more mundane conflicts at home.
In many plays, a Walmart employee gnawing gummy bears on her smoke break while hearing strange speeches would occasion comedy rather than terror. But that’s not how 31 Down operates. Director Shannon Sindelar and lighting designer Jon Luton irradiate Holly and others in sickly green and gray tones. Video designer Holsopple projects pixilated versions of the actors on the wall behind them, so that they seem to haunt themselves. He also designed the sound, which sends the noise of war barreling into the suburban setting—although this particular choice seems perhaps too obvious, the shrapnel icing on a hand-grenade cake.
Ultimately, Bland’s script seems unsure regarding what it wants to say about the effects of conflict on those left behind. Certainly no plot emerges, and the text shies away from much human interaction, relying instead on monologue and voiceover. (And I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the Victorian-era cross-dressing scene.) But 31 Down has found its niche creating eerie, atmospheric pieces, focused less on content than on resonant, unsettling form. Home isn’t where the heart is, but if you’re looking for a milieu of horror, nausea, and colorful chewy snacks, you’ve come to the right address.