JEFF RYNER’S AMERICAN PARADE, Pillar Studio, at the Lunar Cabaret. Peter Handler’s cool satire of war American-style has a wonderful premise: Jeff Ryner, the lone fatality in a Desert Storm-type skirmish, is elevated to the level of a national hero and laid to rest with all the trimmings–including a nationally televised funeral and countless navel-gazing TV shows about him.
Handler’s play is most fun when it sends up phony, opportunistic talk-show hosts: two hilarious nitwit narcissists, played by Maggie Carney and Lawrence Grimm, examine every wrinkle in public opinion, one minute praising Ryner’s family for their supreme sacrifice, the next condemning Ryner for ruining America’s perfect “no casualties” record, and a moment later stirring up paranoia about the government conspiracy that singled him out for death.
Ultimately, however, Handler promises more than he delivers. His satire is never savage enough. And his attempts at deepening the emotional side of the story are incomplete. Thanks in part to Jenny Magnus’s superb, heartfelt acting, we get to know Jeff’s mother very well, but the rest of the Ryner family–the stoic father, the attitude-throwing younger sister–remain ciphers. As does Ryner himself, despite the fact that, like the dead brother in Terrence McNally’s antiwar comedy Bringing It All Back Home, his ghost periodically walks through the play. –Jack Helbig