By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Sep 21, 2014 at 4:46 PM

When Marine Jenny Sutter was in Iraq, she worked at a checkpoint, looking for explosive devices.

But she missed one.

It was hidden in the diaper of a baby, and Jenny watched helplessly as the baby’s head was blown off, 15 people died, and Jenny herself ended losing the bottom of her right leg.

19 months after she left her two children in the care of her mother, Jenny is finally back on home turf. Like so many veterans, her return is filled with something other than a parade.

"Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter."

That’s the name of the play by Julie Marie Myatt that opened over the weekend at Next Act Theatre and runs through Sunday, Oct. 12. It’s a play that should be seen, worried over and savored by everyone who ever thinks about what it means to be an American.

Jenny, complete with prosthetic right calf and foot, is filled with enough demons that she can’t quite bring herself to crawl back into the bosom of her family. Instead, she dawdles at a bus station and is finally emotionally and intellectually seduced by addiction addled Louise, who persuades Jenny to follow her to Slab City, a camp on a former military base populated by a rag-tag band of the needy. There, she meets others who have dropped out of life and dropped into a place where answers are much more important than questions.

Jenny, played by Chelsea D. Harrison, is gradually and hesitatingly nursed back to something resembling a healthy emotional state. But her journey in Slab City is anything but smooth as her insecurities and pains both ruffle feathers and create challenges.

John Kishline and Deborah Clifton play a Slab City self-styled preacher and a Slab City self-styled psychiatrist, respectively. Ryan Schabach plays a disinterested truck driver, and Nate Press is the slovenly custodian of the bus stop.

But the towering achievement of the evening belongs to veteran Milwaukee actor Tami Workentin. Her task in this production is simple: play the United States of America.

As Louise, Workentin is everything this country is as it relates to the return of those military men and women who have given so very much. At her heart, she wants to do the right thing and help the transition from war to peace happen without difficulty. She embodies the care and concern we all have for our veterans. We want. As she says in a passionate discussion with her shrink, "I am a full fledged wanter."

But like America, there is so very much in the way of finding the path to doing the right thing. With Louise, it’s being bewildered by a hyper-addictive personality that has forced her to give up a litany of vice – "card playing, drinking, cigarettes, sleeping pills, aspirin, diet Coke, Snickers bars, Raisins, lipstick and fruit roll ups." Like Louise, America has countless power centers fighting to addict us and pulling us in such varied ways that we have lost our sense of direction.

Workentin embodies that lost collective sense of will missing in our country and our halting and often misguided efforts to help a soldier.

There have been many attempts to write about the difficulties of returning from war to the homefront. Many of them, especially in recent years, focus on the rage and anger that the returning vet faces and is often unable to control.

Not "Jenny Sutter." While there is doubt and regret, she is beset most by a failure to see a place where she can escape her demons. Under the direction of Deborah Staples, this play is a slow burn rather than a raging inferno. Instead of screaming, this soldier swallows all her questions rather than face them. That dynamic is no less insidious as it slides into our collective conscience.

Next Act has long tackled thorny issues that are at the center of debate and discussion in America. And "Jenny Sutter" is right at the top of that stack of important plays. It’s an evening that deserves attention not just from people who go to the theater, but from people who have a sense of patriotism about America.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.