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New play wears its 'Cause,' and heart, on its sleeve

Randall Theatre Company's latest production, "Just Cause," is a warmhearted and often funny drama that explores the effects of wartime trauma, the healing power of love, and the strength of the human spirit — all set in a cute organic-food co-op.

The two main characters are a military couple who have been separated by different campaigns in the Iraq conflict. Paul, played by Nick Walker, has been discharged and is living in Oregon and working at the co-op. A former prisoner of war, Paul suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and has no memory of his wife, Suzy.

Walker is a strong performer, able to manufacture an air of calm just barely hiding his character's emotional fragility. His lines are thoughtful and delivered as if he is slowly coming to understand his own situation and what the war meant to him.

It's a poignant moment when he questions his role in Iraq: "Defending freedom? Whose freedom? Not mine. Not theirs. None of us is free."

Suzy, played by Danielle Peplinski, leads with her heart. A private in the military, she goes AWOL to search for Paul and finds him at the store. Discovering he has forgotten her and their pre-war life, she enlists the aid of several quirky shoppers to help her create a hostage situation, hoping Paul will confront his POW trauma and subsequently remember her.

Although psychology professionals may cringe at this idea, it makes for a creative story that is both sweet and thought-provoking.

When Suzy meets three gum-smacking teenage girls, played by Kenzie McKillip, Tessa Anderson and Joli Santos-Ramsey, and tells them about Paul, they not only inspire her hostage idea, but set out to help her any way they can. The program lists them as the "Fates," though their role as incarnations of destiny is a bit murky. They are charmingly fun as kind but distracted teens.

David Dials is a standout as Paul's friend and store manager Bob, who offers quiet support to Paul and other characters. So is his shallow and vivacious wife Shirley, played by Victoria Simone Stewart. Jesse Lawson is both funny and sympathetic as Toodie, a frenetic former soldier with attention-deficit disorder and other issues.

Written and directed by award-winning local playwright and actor Greg Younger, this production marks the debut of Younger's script. The play has a strong message about the necessity of human connections, particularly for those in pain or who are living in some way on the margins of mainstream society.

The actors are a mix of seasoned and non-professional performers. Although the acting and timing is, at times, a bit inconsistent, and there are some awkward moments in the relatively young script, it is an entertaining play with a lot of heart.

The Randall Theatre is a fine place to take in a show with the family. It not only has comfortable movie-theater seats, but a cushy loveseat near the front row is raffled off (along with cupcakes) for two lucky winners to relax in during the show.

All shows feature live music as well. In this case, Ashland's own Gene Burnett set the mood with bluesy guitar and terrific original songs. Add to that a very friendly staff and it all makes for a fun, original local theater experience.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.