KPBS AIRDATE: JULY 6, 2001
The movie achieved cult status, and so did the TV show. But I don’t think the play will ever join those ranks. “M*A*S*H” lives on in the hearts and minds of many, and if you’re missing it (though the 11-year series will probably be in reruns forever), you can catch a 30 year-old, watered-down version of the original book by Dr. Richard Hornberger AKA Richard Hooker, by an uncredited author, at the Coronado Playhouse. The script is weak, to say the least. Maybe it’s better left uncredited. It’s a messy tangle of loose ends — characters introduced and summarily dismissed, unmotivated relationships, truncated plotlines.
But plucky director Leigh Scarritt has mined the humor, kept the pace swift and cast a few military and medical people, along with some theater-trained personnel, to make it all credible. There are several startling anachronisms here — references to John Kennedy, say, or the TV show musical theme or the Sondheim song “Broadway Baby” — not to mention a weirdly inserted “Loony Tunes” melody — this is, after all, the ’50s and the Korean War. But the whole endeavor (especially the award-winning 1970 film) was the start of black-comic, anti-war irreverence, so I suppose anything goes. In the irreverence department, the play seems way too squeaky-clean, and it may have undergone some additional, unnecessary laundering for this production.
But the exploits of Capt. Hawkeye Pierce and his surgical sidekicks, “Duke” Forrest and “Trapper John” McIntyre, are eternally intriguing. In this Mobil Army Hospital, the work is grim, so any distraction is appreciated — even the wacky, wigged-out hijinks of these non-enlisted physicians. The audience is treated like recruits from the get-go. Our programs are handed to us in white envelopes — semi-sealed marching orders, if you will. We are introduced to this medical unit with a loudspeaker admonition to ‘Sit up straight. Eyes front.’ We are ordered to respond “Yes, sir!”- – especially to the command to Turn off all cellphones, pagers, and electronic devices.
The set looks like an aptly barren barracks, and the costumes look like the ‘real thing.’ Some of the acting is of the declaiming community theater variety, but there are several convincing portrayals, including Michael O’Neill’s playful Hawkeye and Kevin Denler’s spot-on Radar. Denler looks frighteningly like Gary Burghoff, who commanded the role on the big and little screen. The director’s daughter, Tiffany Scarritt Silvaria, isn’t just another example of nepotism. She’s a hoot as one of the ditsy, singing Bonwit Sisters (even though they claim to be tap-dancers). But those two mincing, un-PC, ‘happy-native’ Korean women have got to go. And in a city like San Diego, in the year 2001, why we can’t find Asians to play Asians is totally beyond me.
So the story is Mashed. If you love these guys, you’ll want to see ’em again anyway. In that case, report to Coronado at 20-00 hours.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.