Written and Performed by Suzanne Sulby
Directed by Stephen Stahl
Theatre Row
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

Before reviewing Sanctuary, I’m going to paste, in toto, author-performer Susanne Sulby’s mission statement, direct from the website devoted to her solo play, which is sublined A New Play About the Impact of War on Women:

            This project began for me many years ago when I was watching coverage of the conflict in Serbo-Croatia. As it unfolded, I was shocked and appalled. I couldn’t believe that after the tragedy of the Nazi Holocoust the world could still tolerate ’Ethnic Cleansing.’ I couldn’t understand how this could be happening. What does it take for a group of people to decide to slaughter another group? What do the dissenters do? How do the women react? Conversely, I was aware that it appeared that the only way to stop this violence was to use even greater force. This seamed incongruous. Many years later my own life has unfolded. I have children. I have experienced 9-11 and the wars that followed; I have experienced CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, CNBC, etc. and what seems like a constant barrage of horrors in the world. I have become fascinated with the news and the question of how a reporter remains impartial and sane. During those many years I still had not figured out what to do to make the world a better place. I felt completely and utterly impotent.

            When 9-11 happened, I decided I had to do something, anything. I began small, donating money or used clothing or shoes, helping at food banks. I said yes to as many things as I could. None of these things had a direct link to 9-11 or the wars currently being waged in this world. It did not matter to me. I was learning that every small thing makes a difference. I was beginning to have faith in humanity again. I was walking toward my sanctuary. My purpose is to say out loud, we need to do better. We can do better. Yes, protect ourselves, but how? Peace is inevitable. I will keep sayng that; otherwise it will never happen. I am determined to leave the world better than when I found it.

             My review won’t be as long as the statement. Which I don't mean as a put down.

            Ms. Sulby’s play is a collage of recurring characters: a war correspondent (who is covering a different 20th century war each time we see her), an imprisoned Serb in solitary confinement, slowly dying of deliberate neglect; and two mothers: one who is affected by what she sees on television and moved to volunteer time, gifts & goods, and whatever else she can offer by way of service from the homeland; and another who tries to discourage her son from signing up for military service, and after he does, sure enough, loses him to battle, and becomes an activist.

            Ms. Sulby, redheaded, middle-aged, pretty in a not-quite severe way, the burden of concern informing the lines around her eyes and mouth, is an excellent actress, her vignettes are affecting, sometimes outright moving (under the direction of Stephen Stahl), and she writes with eloquence.

            Beyond that, though, it’s hard to know what to make of Sanctuary. In the end, its message is Can’t we all just stop and find a better way? Which is noble, but not really a rallying cry. It offers no answers other than what it’s doing: speaking out; objecting; pleading for sanity. But after that, what?

            Somehow the effort of a theatrical venue cries out for more. Because it’s so small, so intimate, so limited.

            Is it enough that Sanctuary perforce makes you wonder what more might be?

            Don’t look at me. I don’t have the answer either.

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