War has a tendency to bring out people's demons.
In "Fatherland," Kansas University student playwright Adam Merker slowly reveals his characters' inner monsters as they struggle with the unpleasant realities of war.
The one-act is half of a double bill being staged this weekend by English Alternative Theatre and Card Table Theatre at the Lawrence Arts Center.
"Fatherland" follows three American soldiers in World War II Germany who learn that the Nazi prisoner they're hauling in is really a 17-year-old American.
George (Chris Nelson) and Marvin (Will Averill) shine as a doltish southern boy with racist inclinations and his buddy, a level-headed Jew from New Jersey who emerges as a more worthy leader than his superior.
Aron Carlson as Stevenson, a mean-spirited sergeant who can be nearly as cruel to his own men as the enemy, delivers a brilliant performance that keeps the audience in an almost constant state of discomfort.
Colin Elliot gives a touching portrayal of a prisoner of war who has more in common with his captors than the army whose uniform he wears.
Merker's script takes the audience spiraling with the soldiers to a hell on earth, where allies turn on one another and the enemy is unclear. The dynamic storyline forces the audience to confront chair-squirming issues like racism and patriotism at any cost.
Lee Saylor's lighting design helps push the action as it builds in intensity and finally ends under a blood-red glow.
Fellow playwright David Huffman's "18 Seconds" takes place in the more lighthearted environs of a present-day office space, where we meet Caleb (Ryan Butts), a charmingly nerdy young man who wants to get back to normal after surviving a brush with death.
His only roadblocks are the irascible Hannah (Rebecca Kuhn), who works at the adjacent cubicle and insists that he's not making a big enough deal of the fact that his heart stopped for 18 seconds before doctors revived him, and the frightening episodes he experiences with his newly installed pacemaker.
Kuhn is delightful as the perpetual optimist determined to break Caleb's hard shell. Butts is sweet and convincing as an obviously emotional man who's bent on keeping his feelings to himself.
Huffman's poetic prose shine through during an exchange in Hannah's office when she finally pries Caleb open, exposing his heart and compelling him to recount his near-death experience.
The script brims with witty dialogue, which Kuhn and Butts bandy back and forth with the ease of old friends.
Patrick Davis, who plays the pair's boss, elicits plenty of laughs with his obnoxious interruptions, sarcasm and over-attention to the company's bottom line.
Also worthy of note is EAT founder Paul Lim's sound design, which lends added drama to the tense moments when Caleb's pacemaker seems to be failing him.
"Fatherland" and "18 Seconds" make a powerful pair. It's little wonder so many of EAT's original scripts do well in playwriting competitions. These will be strong contenders.
The plays, both directed by Jeremy Auman, will close with a 2:30 p.m. performance today. "Fatherland" contains adult subject matter.