With Defiance, now making its West Coast debut at Pasadena Playhouse, John Patrick Shanley has fashioned the second installment in his unique three-part exploration of the rigidity of collectively recognized authority vs. the human condition.  The first celebrated work of this proposed trilogy—his Pulitzer-winning play Doubt—was set in a Catholic school; with Defiance, Shanley again finds the perfect locale to deliberate the scariness of faith-based rules and what they ultimately breed: the U.S. military.


Set on a Marine base in the South in 1971, Defiance upsets the unspoken traditional armed services’ code that states it would be an outrage for a subordinate officer to accuse his commander of wrongdoing—especially when the dirty deed is the schtupping of the comely young wife of an enlisted man.  When the accuser here turns out to be someone his offending superior has just chosen as his immediate second in command, and then factoring in that said officer is black, the stakes at risk in Shanley’s absorbing story become infinitely higher.  “Morality is not a human thing,” it’s pondered in Defiance.  “It’s like the ocean…it’s both with us and against us.”

From the first moments of Defiance, where a traditionally crusty drill sergeant (the always wonderful Joel Polis) barks orders at the audience substituting for quaking enlisted men, the characters and the situations in which they find themselves rapidly tumble forward between every respectful salute.  Only Col. Littlefield’s wife has an opportunity to let her often amused, often discouraged humanity peek through the expected regime demanded by her marriage to the camp’s commander, crafting a cagey one-person Greek Chorus capable of cutting through the military bullshit with humor and humility.  “Don’t hang your military career on me, Skip,” she tells her by-the-book and extremely ambitious husband at one point.  “I wish you were a folksinger.”

As Col. Littlefield and his long-suffering spouse, married actors Kevin Kilner and Jordan Baker, in their first experience working together in both of their long and rich careers, are simply sensational.  Their scenes together could be a textbook case for the inspirational give-and-take to which all actors aspire, particularly after the husband’s indiscretions are revealed in the final scene. 

Offering a mesmerizing performance in this pivotal character, Robert Manning Jr. is a rock as Capt. King, the once-idealistic black officer who lost faith after the assassination of another man named King, offering a tightly wound.  When Margaret comments to King during a meeting in the Littlefields’ home that the future is hitting them all like a brick, he replies, “I don’t know, ma’am…the future hasn’t done anything to me,” to which she quips in return: “Give it a while, Captain.”  In Shanley’s hands, that prediction doesn’t take long at all to solidify.

Dennis Flanagan is indelible as the despondent Marine whose life is shattered by his wife’s dalliance, but the evening ultimately belongs to former Evidence Room mainstay Leo Marks who, as the slightly creepy camp chaplain, quickly proves his character to be someone oozing anything but Christian charity—all in the name of a moral rightness that would make George Dubya proud.  Marks stealthily soars above everyone in creating the most initially benign yet eventually frightening characters onstage this season.   

Working with a crackerjack design team, Andrew J. Robinson appears to have stepped back a bit to take an academic directorial approach to this material, making confrontations between characters discordant with the rest of his vision.  Still, Shanley’s quickly-paced script and a brilliantly cast company lift Defiance defiantly into a place sure to provoke later mediation about the daunting nature of moral authority—and what makes our species so mindlessly obedient to its tenets.

Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 S. El Molino Av., Pasadena; for tickets, call (626) 356-PLAY.



TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.