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The title of Bill Cain's 2010 work suggests a connection to Dante's Inferno, but the central character descending into a kind of hell here is no mere tourist. Army Pfc. Daniel Reeves (Andrew Goetten), though honorably discharged from his tour of duty in Iraq, finds himself facing federal charges back home for his alleged involvement in a heinous war crime. (The act Reeves is accused of is apparently inspired by the case of 101st Airborne Division Pfc. Steven Dale Green, who was sentenced in 2009 to five consecutive life sentences for his part in the 2006 rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the killing of her parents and younger sibling in Mahmoudiya.)
As Reeves, a 19-year-old dead-end kid who's diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (and happens to share a Texas hometown with Green's commander-in-chief), Goetten delivers an arresting performance, barely leaving the stage in the play's densely packed 100 minutes.
His Virgilesque guides—a succession of lawyers, superiors, ministers and psychiatrists, smartly portrayed by Andy Luther, Jude Roche and Amanda Powell—come and go, often seeking to forward their own agendas. That could be said of Cain as well; the playwright seems interested in making Reeves's story into an indictment of not just U.S. involvement in Iraq but of an overgrown national-security machine that relies on the recruitment of unstable, underqualified kids like Reeves to feed itself. Like Cain's Equivocation, seen last fall at Victory Gardens, 9 Circles can sometimes feel more like an argumentative essay than a dramatic work.
But Marti Lyons's spare, evocative production—beautifully appointed with lighting by Mac Vaughey, sound design by Christopher M. LaPorte and a set by Courtney O'Neill that cleverly rethinks the DCASE Storefront Theater space—manages to keep up the emotional stakes even while allowing Cain's more academic questions, such as what we mean when we say "we" are at war, their proper due. And Goetten, a young actor I've admired in smaller roles for some years now, has hit what ought to be a career power-up with a role that asks him to create sympathy for the devil. His rangy, multilayered performance is not to be missed.