Joan Gross: Pacifica Spindrift Players 'Cry Havoc'

Army nurses on the Bataan Peninsula during World War II needed help badly, but when it arrived it wasn't at all what they expected. That’s the premise of “Cry Havoc,” being presented by Pacifica Spindrift Players through June 24. Written by Canadian-born Allan Kenward, the 1942 play about volunteer nurses who huddled for weeks together in a bomb shelter paints a fierce picture of a driving war.

As the Japanese army forced most American troops to retreat from Bataan, nurses remained, tending to those left behind. The motley crew included a Southern belle, a waitress, a stripper, an Englishwoman, a Brooklyn babe and a hard-bitten doctor, among others. Under incessant gunfire, they grew jittery, wisecracking, quarrelsome and valiant, but bonded together during the desperate situation.

Pacifica resident Jean Gildersleeve plays Doc, the head nurse. She can easily identify with the role, since she has been a nurse for 32 years. She says, “Although there were not many female doctors during the 1940s, I try to place myself back to that era.” In addition, her character has to separate herself from the rest of the group: “Although she was a surgeon in civilian life, she is forced to become a nurse in the army. She has a passion for medicine and brings that strength to support these young naïve volunteer women.”

Deborah Jones plays a nurse named Pat, who moves from being competitive to a person who relies on others. “Although Pat is very fiery and opinionated, underneath she is insecure. There is a bit of this in all of us.” Jones describes the show as a drama “about ordinary people in an extraordinary situation and how the group bonds together.”

Director Pamela Ciochetti, who has worked in theater since she was 4, has appeared in a previous production of the play. She says, “I was struck by the power of these women. The author based his writings on reports he got about the desperate situation of the war in the Pacific. The contributions of women in almost all war efforts have been overlooked, and this show brings them to the forefront.”

The drama is more timely now than when it opened because of the increased role of women in the military today. She says, “Our women are now in the front line as combatant soldiers, and are experiencing the same physical, mental and emotional experiences that males have. This show brings war closer to reality for all of us. I hope the audience will come away with this personal experience about the impact of war, and how damaging it really is. We have to do everything we can to avoid this in the future.”

The Pacifica Spindrift Players Theatre is at 1050 Crescent Drive. Tickets are $15 to $19. Call (650) 359-8002 or visit pacificaspindriftplayers.org.

jgross@examiner.com

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