Susan Sontag defines Camp as a sensibility with a love of artifice and exaggeration, which “among, other things, converts the serious into the frivolous,” in her 1964 essay, “Notes on ‘Camp.’” In the following decades, camp has only become more prevalent in media – both intentional (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, “Weird Al” Yankovic, most if not all Ryan Murphy television, etc.) and unintentional (Soylent Green, the Matrix sequels, the less self-aware branches of hair metal, etc.). Propaganda, especially outdated propaganda, often becomes camp due to its intrinsically overblown nature, which when seen with the perspective of history takes on an air of absurdity.
Blueprint Specials is Waterwell’s new adaptation of the four surviving Blueprint Specials, a series of musicals, written primarily by Frank Loesser and Arnold Auerbach, to be performed by and for soldiers during World War II. Waterwell’s adaptation, which combines elements of all four plays into one narrative, tells the story (in a fairly loose sense of the word) of Pallas Athene, who drops to Earth to enlist in the US Women’s Army Corps, disguised as Private First Class Mary Brown (incidentally, the title of one of the original shows).
True to its original purpose as light entertainment to keep up morale on Army bases, Blueprint Specials is rife with camp. The situations are almost as goofy as the one-dimensional characters; the plot, almost as transparent as the play’s intentions: to present a version of life on the base free from any actual reference to war or serious violence. Waterwell plays up many of the campiest elements of the original text, and even adds some of their own. Sad Sack, the dopey male lead, has a lot of wacky slapstick moments; there is a spectacular, non-plot-related, Caribbean-style dance halfway through complete with garish costumes and maracas; the production even makes extensive use of the outdated transphobic trope of putting a man in a skirt for a cheap laugh. In its original context, all this camp serves a very specific purpose: put simply, happier soldiers are more effective soldiers. Performed by a largely civilian cast to a mostly civilian audience, 70-odd years later, it does a few different things. While WWII troops would have been intimately aware of the less pleasant things the show omits, Americans in 2017 are eager to ignore the atrocities of their own military, and what better way to do that than to remember the bloodiest war in history as a simpler time full of romance and hijinks?