Tuesday, April 9, 2024


By Jane Primerano, Guest Reviewer

When a critic walks into the Lackland Center for any Centenary Stage Company production, the feeling of anticipation is already high. Since the inception of the Women Playwrights Series, another layer has been added to that anticipation. The series has introduced some extraordinary work.

But not every play can be extraordinary, even in the WPS.

Backwards, Forwards, Back is a credible effort on a tough subject, PTSD.

Playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger has obviously done her homework. She has reached out to a number of veterans. The inspiration for the play came from a veteran who had been treated with Virtual Reality for his PTSD.

But compacting 13 weeks of VR therapy into a 65-minute, one-act, single-character play didn’t quite live up to the WPS standard.

Bess Miller as Soldier proved she is a compelling actor who can handle a tough role, but she needed more support from the script. The technique of telling her story in snatches works, but more backstory would have helped.

The audience empathizes with Soldier’s need to reconcile with her sister and reconnect with her nephew and niece, but a few things don’t ring true. She says the nephew is 14, but her description of their interaction makes him seem younger, which is disconcerting.

One-character plays are always tough, and perhaps this story would have been better served as a two-hander between Soldier and her sister Janet, as each of them are transformed by the therapy.

This critic is always prepared to be wowed by Matthew Imhoff’s sets. The spare set overlayed with the VR effects was interesting, but somewhat overwhelming in the small space of the Kutz Theatre. My companion at the play has a daughter with a seizure disorder, and both of us felt there should have been a warning before the play that the lighting, although brilliantly conceived by Gregg Bellòn, could be a problem.

A few small things were also disconcerting. Soldier wore fatigues but not Army boots, and her fly was unzipped during Friday’s show. The only props were VR glasses, a water bottle and two stools. She kept in her pocket a photo of her niece and nephew. It might have brought the audience into the story a little more if we had been allowed to see their faces.

The play runs through April 14, with a symposium on Sunday, April 7, after the 2 PM performance. I truly wish I could attend that because I would like to hear the thoughts of veterans and people who work with vets with PTSD. Perhaps the perspective of an old newspaper lady (and my companion, whose husband is a Vietnam Vet) would be better served by the discussion.

I would never say “don’t attend” about any play at Centenary, just that some things don’t really work in 
Backwards, Forwards, Back, and it would be great if they did.

Backwards, Forwards, Back will be performed at the Kutz Blackbox Theatre of the Lackland Performing Arts Center located on the campus of Centenary University at 715 Grand Avenue, Hackettstown, NJ, through April 13. A symposium will take place following the matinee performance on Sunday April 7th. 

For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit or call the Centenary Stage Company box office at (908) 979-0900. The Centenary Stage Company box office is open Monday through Friday from 1:00-5:00 pm and two hours prior to performances. The box office is located in the Lackland Performing Arts Center on the campus of Centenary University at 715 Grand Ave. Hackettstown, NJ.