Like the cover of a book, the title of a play should attract attention and represent its subject. John Patrick Shanley's new off-Broadway work "Defiance" would have been more faithful to its subject if it were titled "Accountability," but that's not likely to have sold many tickets.
Set in 1971 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., this morality tale unfolds through a series of metaphor-heavy events: racial incidents among young marines on the base, the arrival of a zealous Lutheran chaplain, career-building but morally compromising assignments for a young black captain, marital infidelity by a dedicated lieutenant-colonel and its discovery by his devoted wife.
Shanley, whose award-winning "Doubt" is still on the boards on Broadway, wants us to hear echoes of antiwar Vietnam, Clinton's big mistake, the Clarence Thomas hearings, and Iraq, to explore why men seek power, exercise power, run from power, and/or refuse to acknowledge the existence of a higher power. The wife, skillfully portrayed by Margaret Colin, becomes the vehicle for the playwright's opinion on the source of all this bad behavior. She finally rejects the idea that power trumps accountability, suggesting that it is not age, race, or status that is the best indicator of who will accept responsibility for their actions, but instead, it may be gender.