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Review: Ratatat’s ‘Happy Few’ Paints an Intriguing Portrait of the Faces of War

With Veterans Day approaching, Ratatat Theater Group presents an intriguing portrait of the faces of war. Happy Few is an original play created by interweaving segments of William Shakespeare’s Henry V with transcripts from interviews with Santa Barbara veterans.

In this way, the piece addresses war and attitudes about it from those with intimate knowledge of it over the ages. From the English king rallying his troops against the French at Agincourt to the soldier on the Vietnam battlefield horrified by his comrades’ injuries to the young returned veteran from Afghanistan who wonders what life holds for him now, all are brought into sharp focus.

Casey Caldwell, artistic director and founder of Ratatat, is the writer and director of Happy Few, and also performs as part of the ensemble of actors. These five men and
one woman do a wonderful job of embodying the experiences of the local vets, as well as spectacularly portraying Henry V. They take turns, passing the iconic crown from one to the other as the play unfolds.

Caldwell shows that not only is he a fine writer and director, but his acting chops are well up to par in the scenes as Henry. The intensity and rage pouring out of him during one particularly impassioned speech are fearsome to see.

Kasey Eldred brings a quiet, unassuming power to his performance. As a young returned veteran, he speaks simply about wishing for a steady, secure job and stress-free life.

Able to portray a naïve young surfer about to sign on for the war in Vietnam as well as the severe Shakespeare characters, Stuart Orenstein seems to utilize an underlying serenity to accomplish this range.

Paul Nay has the commanding presence of an elder statesman. In addition, he shines a light on the horrific side of war with his depiction of a soldier in battle struggling to aid his injured friend and the honor of being celebrated in a touching monologue about a memorial in Belgium.

With great versatility, Justin Stark can go from stern to soft-hearted, and is equally convincing in either mode.

Stephanie “Babz” Farnum is natural and real as the modern-day characters, but where she really shines is with the Shakespeare material. Her command of that intricate language and the focus and power with which she wields it is awe-inspiring.

For those who have been in battle situations, some scenes may prove traumatic. There is a prolonged sequence where the sounds of explosions and gunfire are replicated, layered with a clamor of voices, resulting in a visceral reaction of fear.

For those able to handle it, Happy Few is well worthwhile — a thoughtful, artful and skillfully presented perspective on war and all its faces.

Click here for ticket information (some shows are free to the public) and a schedule of shows.

— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.

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