Love and war take on new meaning in the hilarious and heartwarming one-woman show “Between Iraq and a Hard Place,” playing at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.
Written and performed by actress and comedian Jill Turnbow, this highly acclaimed show is part of the theater’s After Hours late-night series for mature audiences.
Turnbow, who now lives in Cambria, spent 20 years traveling the country as a stand-up comic. While in Los Angeles, she created and performed “Between Iraq and a Hard Place,” which became a success there and in New York City and Montreal. The show was originally directed by Mark Ankeny.
Turnbow has directed and performed in other productions at the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, most recently helming “We’re Canceling Cable! (and other empty threats)” in January.
“Between Iraq and a Hard Place” chronicles Turnbow’s experience entertaining the troops during the Gulf War in 1991. She performed her comedy routine for approximately 27,000 military personnel onboard the cruise ship Cunard Princess, then moored off the coast of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.
Every three days, about 950 servicemen and servicewomen would arrive on the ship through a government-run rest-and-recreation program.
Turnbow was a young but seasoned comedian when she agreed to the gig with little understanding of the expectations and challenges of performing in front of so many soldiers letting loose in a confined space.
How do you entertain a bunch of testosterone-fueled men who have been living in the desert ready to go to war and now have access to an open bar?
“It was like taming a frat party,” Turnbow says in “Between Iraq and a Hard Place.”
Combining thought-provoking dialogue with adult humor, she recounts the bittersweet nature of entertaining the troops before they are sent into harm’s way.
Her unique story is told through comical monologues about drunken hecklers, phone calls to home and gas mask drills.
From the chaos, frustration and frequent bomb scares, Turnbow tells the audience, she learns a great deal about her own strength, character and patriotism.
Her perseverance eventually leads to admiration and appreciation by the soldiers.
“I remember one guy telling me he would paint my name on the side of a bomb. How sweet is that?” she asks the audience with both glee and sarcasm.
Turnbow holds nothing back in “Between Iraq and a Hard Place,” even sharing intimate details about a short-lived romance on the ship. Her sentimentality and frankness about the situations she endured are always delivered with a touch of genuineness.
Turnbow’s great comic timing, facial expressions and sarcastic wit translate into a powerhouse performance. But beyond the very funny comedy, she shows us the serious side of war.
“Between Iraq and a Hard Place” features lighting design by San Luis Obispo Little Theatre managing artistic director Kevin Harris and sound design by Turnbow.
Both music and lighting support shifts to new storylines in the show, with transitions signaled by blaring party music or a sudden spotlight on Turnbow.
The set is practically bare except for a small stage and some boxes for Turnbow to sit on.
Even with the comical twists and turns, Turnbow’s devotion to the men and women who risk their lives fighting for our freedom shines throughout the show. Her approach makes for the best kind of comedy; you laugh out loud and want to cry at the same time.
‘Between Iraq and a Hard Place’
- When: 9:30 p.m. June 12 and June 13; 7 p.m. June 14
- Where: San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo
- Tickets: $20 each
- Information: 786-2440 or www.slolittletheatre.org