It’s understandable that the stellar literary theater company Word for Word decided to stage “The Last Stand” and “Gold Star” in choosing among the linked short stories that comprise “You Know When the Men Are Gone,” Siobhan Fallon’s acclaimed book about life at Fort Hood, a military base in Texas.
In “The Last Stand,” a young male soldier, Kit, has just returned home from more than a year in Iraq, wounded, to find that his wife is about to leave him.
In “Gold Star,” the viewpoint is of a young war widow, Josie. As it happens, Kit was with her beloved husband, Eddie, when he was killed in his Humvee by an improvised explosive device.
The two stories taken together present a balanced, wide-angled look at military life during wartime for the returning soldier as well as for the lonely Army wife left behind. (Author Fallon herself was one such Army wife.)
Both stories receive Word’s patented and polished treatment: staged verbatim with all the “he said” and “she said,” as well as other narrative text, left intact and shared among the various characters in ways that can be wonderfully illuminating.
“The Last Stand” is the first and longest — too long, in fact, with too many extraneous events. As directed by Joel Mullennix, it is initially theatrically overloaded, with fragments of text spread out over too many minor and incidental characters, and too much distracting stage business, resulting in a choppy continuum.
But when the timeless, heartbreaking story focuses on the interaction between a vulnerable, palpably troubled Chad Deverman as the rejected, traumatized Kit and Roselynn Hallett as his seemingly aloof but equally anguished wife, Helena, the story’s power resonates.
More successful is the shorter “Gold Star,” in which grieving widow Josie (a luminous Arwen Anderson) receives an unexpected visit from Kit. The young soldier brings with him some information about Eddie’s death, which leads to an ending so poignant and delicate that it elicited a sigh from the audience at a recent Sunday matinee. Amy Kossow directed the gemlike piece with great sensitivity.
As always, the Word for Word ensemble performs together flawlessly, interacting and trading text fragments like a well-oiled machine, with a variety of roles played to fine effect by Marilet Martinez, Armando McClain and Ryan Tasker.
You Know When the Men Are Gone
Presented by Word for Word
Where: Z Space at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 24
Tickets: $30 to $55
Contact: (866) 811-4111, www.zspace.org
Note: Saturday’s performance will be followed by an onstage conversation and reception with Siobhan Fallon.