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Breaking Rank!
Presented by Howard Petrick

Reviewed: 2012-08-18 02:13:36
Rated: 10 out of 10 [5 Stars]
By: Robin Chase (e-mail private -- log in to view)

Written & Performed by Howard Petrick
Directed by Mark Kenward
Developed with David Ford


Howard Petrick, a 66-year-old artiste from San Francisco, California, USA, is a man of many talents. Throughout the course of his life, he has been a photojournalist, a writer, a filmmaker (producer and director), a member of boards of directors and president of a computer company. He has fought for civil liberties for almost 50 years. Five years ago, he added "actor" to his resume. Every journey through life has a trigger point - a point in time where a particular experience will send a person down a significant path. Very often, this "trigger" will occur when the person is very young. This was the case with Mr. Petrick when, as a 19-year-old in the turbulent 1960s, he was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in the Vietnam War.

Neither Mr. Petrick nor the officers who initially dealt with him could have imagined the eventual outcome of his involuntary enlistment. He was a law-abiding, rule-obeying young man of conscience whose commitment to freedom of expression finally had the decision-makers at The Pentagon scratching their heads over what to do with him. He was a soldier who opposed the Vietnam War. He was breaking rank, but doing so with honour as he fought to uphold a freedom that the U.S. Military itself is sworn to defend. The question was, did enlisted persons have freedom of expression - especially if their viewpoints conflicted with military policy?

In Breaking Rank!, Mr. Petrick has skillfully added certain elements to his autobiographical tale - both in his script and in his solo performance - which inject just the right degree of absurdist humour that certainly pays tribute to such an anti-war satirical novel masterpiece as Joseph Heller's "Catch 22". Indeed, the real-life Private Petrick and Catch 22's fictional Captain John Yossarian could find common ground in their perplexed attempts to negotiate the "minefield" that is military bureaucracy. Pfc. Petrick himself was the military's own "Catch 22" - he was the problem for which the only solution was denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem itself.

In his solo show, Mr. Petrick does not simply show us his superb skills as a storyteller and monologuist, he gives us his ample talents as an actor who can successfully portray a wide variety of characters. He plays 20 characters in Breaking Rank! and each one comes across to the audience as a distinct personality. In his self-portrayal, he avoids the temptation of preaching his convictions and instead, he plays it straight: everything you hear is exactly as it happened... every thought that he expresses is precisely as it formed in his brain at the time of these events. No sermons, no chest-thumping... Pfc. Petrick is the common man in an uncommon situation. The audience readily identifies with this.

Mr. Petrick does add some absurdity in his portrayal of his fellow enlisted men and particularly in his portrayal of his superiors, but he does so in good measure, creating many funny moments while avoiding exaggeration. In the hands of lesser-skilled actors, superior officers can often come across as buffoons, but Mr. Petrick has us laughing at them while realizing that these men implicitly believe in the military, believe in military policy, believe in their government and sincerely believe that what they are saying is logical, right and true.

But their military comfort zone falls apart when they are confronted by the logic of Pfc. Petrick's convictions through his statements and the questions he asks of them. They are confounded, they find themselves on shaky ground, they fear the doubts that are beginning to hammer away on the walls they've erected around their own convictions. Mr. Petrick has deftly added an ingredient of pathos into these humorous characterizations that actually has us somewhat in sympathy. We can laugh at them, but we also understand where they're coming from.

This performance ranks among the best solo acts that I've ever had the pleasure to attend over many years. We can be grateful that Mr. Petrick, with his outstanding resume... (see www.howardpetrick.com/bio for details) ...decided to bring this show to the Fringe circuit. A very wide audience will be exposed to this show and indeed, it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

(Review of performance held in The Playhouse Studio on 28 July 2012 during the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.)

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