War casualties as an image problem are the conundrum in “Bury the Dead,” Irwin Shaw’s righteous, funny and painfully relevant 1936 one-act now playing at the Actors’ Gang. The author had just graduated from college when his antiwar drama landed on Broadway, and this is very much a young man’s play, its ethos driven by core pleasures (a woman’s smile, a cold beer, the dream of a future) and an instinctive distrust of authority.
Lights up on a bleak field, where a couple of beleaguered doughboys (Seth Compton and Rick Gifford) dig a communal grave for six of their fallen comrades. No sooner have they started to cover the corpses in the dirt when slowly, eerily, the six stiffs climb to their feet and stare down the living. Yes, they’re dead all right, but they’ve decided to stick around, having had their lives cut obscenely short by what they term “the general’s real estate,” a few bloody yards of battleground. Flummoxed, their thoughtful captain (Simon Anthony Abou-Fadel) turns to Army brass, religious leaders and finally the fairer sex to convince their deceased loved ones to go gently into that good night.