By John Lyle Belden
Though we might be familiar with the 1970s film or long-running television series, the stage play of “M*A*S*H” – and particularly the Buck Creek Players production, on stage through April 9 – stands apart.
Written by Tim Kelly and based on the original Richard Hooker novel, this live version features the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea during the 1950-53 war, as well as some familiar characters, but don’t expect a reprise of the TV show.
Like the book and movie, the plot is mainly a series of scenes. The main story arcs concern the arrival and service of irreverent but excellent combat surgeons Captains Hawkeye Pierce (Ryan Powell) and Duke Forrest (Kurt F. Clemenz), as well as the fate of Korean youth Ho-Jon (Achiradeth “Boss” Teerasataporn). We also meet neurotic commander Col. Blake (Gregory Brinkers); incompetent stick-in-the-mud Maj. Burns (Ben Jones); Hawkeye and Duke’s fellow mischief-makers Captains Trapper John (Gergory Dunn), Ugly Black (Dave Hoffman) and suicidal dentist Walt Waldowski (George Chimples); new chief nurse Maj. “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Sue Kuehnhold) and the strong but easy-going nursing staff Lieutenants Fury (Abby White), Kimble (Michelle Papandria) and Phillips (Jennifer Berk); the cook always cooking up get-rich schemes, Sgt. Devine (Jamison Allen); and the supernaturally perceptive Cpl. Radar O’Reilly (Jim Banta).
Among the more fun scenes are those that involve getting Burns out of the unit for good; snapping Walt from a deep funk by staging his “death” and resurrection; and the arrival of three stranded female USO performers (Miranda Garrett, Rachel Riley and Kristen Baker).
Teerasataporn, a Thai exchange student, makes a great stage debut as Ho-Jon, the houseboy (and Hawkeye’s hijinks co-conspirator) in the officers’ tent known as “The Swamp.” After being drafted away by the South Korean Army, he is by dubious luck returned to the 4077th as a casualty. Then M.A.S.H. personnel, led by Hawkeye, raise money to help send Ho-Jon to the States to attend medical school.
Other performances are sharp as well; Powell relishes his role as mischief-maker.
Some aspects of the show are problematic: Given both the era portrayed and when the stories were written (and possibly few Asians available for audition) the native women are little more than giggling extras, uncomfortably close to stereotype. Also, it was an odd choice to have Jones also play neurosurgeon and football star “Spearchucker” Jones, typically cast (questionable name and all) with an African-American.
Nonetheless, this ambitious production nicely captures the spirit of the filmed versions, while giving us a fresh angle on the “Four Oh Double-Natural.” Find BCP at 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road exit off I-74); call 317-862-2270 or visit buckcreekplayers.com.
John L. Belden is also Associate Editor and A&E editor of The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based Midwest LGBTQ news source.