9 Circles

Julian Elijah Martinez delivers a masterful performance as Daniel Reeves in Bill Cain’s 9 Circles. The play is wrapped around the atrocities that took place in Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq, in 2006.

In Cain’s retelling of the story, Reeves is a young man with little hope and a history of personality disorder who enlists in the Army and is sent to Iraq—perhaps the last person that you’d want to trust with lethal weapons in a high-stress situation. Reeves’s story of the violence he witnesses, his brutal over-response to it, and the slender moment of grace he experiences in the meantime is unpacked by a series of interviews and meetings with various officers, psychiatrists, chaplains, and lawyers. His interlocutors are played by an ensemble of three (Scott McCormick, Jonathan Feuer, and Katy Carkuff), and the doubling serves to emphasize Reeves’s disorientation and isolation; on at least one occasion, he remarks to a new character played by an actor we have already seen, “You look familiar.” Each one tries to put his own spin on Reeves’s tale, and it’s only at the end, in a bravura monologue in which he undergoes death by lethal injection, that Reeves wrests control of the narrative and lets us viscerally feel what it’s really like to be him in this wretched situation.

One of Reeves’s lawyers remarks that his history is a threat to American complacency (and the complacency of all who practice violence) because it opens up a sympathy for the enemy. And as that sympathy knocks down the barrier between foes, how can any war survive? It is Cain’s play that instills sympathy for Reeves, and with that barrier down, how can the scapegoating murder that is capital punishment survive?

Carkuff’s scene as the Army “shrink” is particularly strong, as the career psychiatrist must walk the line between, on the one hand, compassion for her patient and getting him out of harm’s way (his own and others’), and on the other, the need to “recycle” warriors back to a state of fitness for duty and return them to the front lines.

  • 9 Circles, by Bill Cain, directed by Jennifer L. Nelson, Forum Theatre, Silver Spring, Md.