By Darlene Donloe
Zulu Time is described as a poignant and startlingly original drama set on an American aircraft carrier during the civil rights era.
The story, which takes place on a flight deck, catwalk and selected interior spaces of an American Essex Class aircraft carrier in 1965, opens somewhere off Catalina Island near Los Angeles. From the deck some crewmen can see smoke from the Watts uprising.
Unbeknownst to two white crewmen, one of whom is on the deck spewing racial hatred, a black petty officer named Ronnie (Christopher T. Wood) is behind them and overhears the hateful tirade of one of the Navy pilots.
The focus of the story is about Page Boy (David Ghilardi), the Navy pilot who refuses to apologize to Ronnie for voicing his desire to bomb the Watts rioters.
In an effort to squash what he feels is an impending uprising on the ship due to a racial divide and bad feelings, the captain (John Marzilli) has Ronnie thrown in the brig and then off the ship.
Unfortunately for the play’s sake the premise falls short because the lack of an apology doesn’t significantly kick up any dander. In fact, it doesn’t really show how any other crewmen, other than the three on the deck, was aware of the incident. At the urging of the captain, an Asian officer named Yamato (Scott Keiji Takeda) is assigned to keep Ronnie in his place. Somewhat of a racist himself, the captain doesn’t necessarily feel Page Boy should provide an apology. His directive is to thwart a different kind of war that may start brewing onboard the warship. No semblance of that war ever really materializes.
The racial angst, as well as the homophobe angst on the ship comes from ignorance and cultural bias.
Nowhere in the play does Ronnie rally the black crewmen to mutiny or even retaliate in any way. He just simply becomes insubordinate and refuses to perform his own duties.
However, the situation between Page Boy and Ronnie does eventually lead to an unfortunate incident – for which Page Boy expresses regret.
Chuck Faerber's all-male play would work brilliantly even without the race angle, primarily due to the fact that you have men from all backgrounds, races and cultures in cramped quarters for months at a time. With that as a backdrop – mutiny, racial unrest, in fact any kind of unrest would surely raise its ugly head.
Zulu Time is an interesting, original story about yet another race-related Navy protest, of which, historically, there were apparently many. It does manage to weave the notion of acceptance, sexuality, difference, rank, race relations, friendship, tolerance and how all of the above mixed with testosterone and machinery –can be explosive.
The writer’s note says – ‘The official line is that there has never been a mutiny on a United State Navy vessel at sea. The unofficial one is that the Navy never came closer to mutiny than during the tempestuous 1960s, when civil rights and the Vietnam War threatened to tear American cities apart. These same issues also wrenched the ‘floating cities’ that were American aircraft carriers – the largest and most powerful warships ever built. Zulu Time is a fictional attempt to capture those violent days. It also tries to show the contradictory ugliness and allure of a unique culture within a culture – U.S. Naval Aviation – with its entrenched bigotry and startling meritocracy, its marriage of the technical and the spiritual, its danger and, above all, its overpowering beauty.’
What is Zulu Time? Well, in the military, Zulu Time is Greenwich Mean Time, or a coordinated universal time. (GMT is sometimes called Greenwich Meridian Time because it is measured from the Greenwich Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Greenwich is the place from where all time zones are measured.)
Some of Director Richard Kuhlman’s direction is creative, especially when showing the constant movement aboard the ship. Everything mechanical and everybody human have to work in concert for order to prevail. That being said, the slow pace of the show drags the energy and the story.
Regrettably, some of the dialogue was lost either from the actor’s occasional rapid delivery or from the acoustics. Thank goodness for the Navy Airman’s Glossary, which was provided in the handbill.
The show flows easily from one scene to the next as a result of Gary Lee Reed’s mobile set and the precision of the actors. Kudos to David B. Marling’s sound and Gina Davidson’s costumes.
Zulu Time, written by former Navy pilot Charles Faerber and directed by Richard Kuhlman, stars Acquah Dansoh, David Ghilardi, Tony Grosz, Byron Hays, Jake Hundley, Ruffy Landayan, Trevor Larson, John Marzilli, Joe Spence, Scott Keiji Takeda and Christopher T. Wood.
Zulu Time, Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sun. through Aug. 9; $25; Running time: 120 min. Reserve online at: https://www.plays411.com/zulu
On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah), E (excellent), Zulu Time gets an L (likeable).
All photos by Ed Krieger