Monday, January 28, 2019

Seattle Rep: Last of the Boys

On Friday night I went to see Last of the Boys at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.  So bad.  Written by Steven Dietz and set at the beginning of the millennium, Last of the Boys tells the story of Ben, a former Vietnam vet living alone in a trailer in the California desert.  He is visited there by his friend Jeeter, a fellow Vietnam vet.  Jeeter is something of a hippie - long-haired, obsessed with music, always eager to protest, etc.  During Jeeter’s last road trip he picked up a young girl named Salyer and fell in love with her.  She soon joins the pair.  And in hot pursuit of Salyer is her mom, Lorraine, eager to take her daughter away from these two weirdos and get her safely home.  The final character in the play is The Young Soldier, a ghost or a mirage or a figment of Ben’s imagination.  Ben, you see, has a problem.  He keeps having recurrent fantasies in which he believes that he is in fact Robert S. McNamara, US Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968 and the chief architect of US military escalation in Vietnam.  When The Young Soldier enters, the lights change, and Ben puts on a white shirt, tie, and jacket.  Then, as McNamara, he takes questions from the press or reads statements about troop levels, etc.

This play is a mess.  It certainly has nothing to tell us about Vietnam.  If Dietz finds McNamara an intriguing figure then he should have written a play about McNamara and not a play about a vet who occasionally thinks he’s McNamara.  That doesn’t really get us anywhere.  It’s a truism that many of the boys who served in Vietnam came home with severe psychological problems; putting that onstage in 2004 (which is when Last of the Boys premiered) is hardly original.  In an interview in the program notes Dietz comments that “this play is not ‘about’ Vietnam”; that war is just something he uses “to pressurize the friendships and relationships inside the play,” whatever that means.  But even as a chronicle of pressurized relationships the play disappoints.  The friendship between Ben and Jeeter feels forced.  Aside from the war, they don’t seem to have much in common.  They don't even seem to like each other. Over the course of the play they fight but they make up in the end because, dammit, they’re bros.  And the two women seem to be added for the sole purpose of making this a full-length play rather than a one-act one (which probably would have been better).  All during this play I kept asking myself (as so Americans did during the actual Vietnam War) “What’s the point of all this?” and I too never got an answer.

Sadly, most of the actors also lack conviction.  They seemed to be phoning it in (at least I hope they were).  Reginald André Jackson seemed much too well-adjusted for a vet suffering from PTSD.  Kate Wisniewski was also not believable as the boozy, tough Lorraine.  When Lorraine talks about the life-altering moment when she opened the frig one morning and grabbed a beer rather than the orange juice, it completely lacked authenticity to me - a healthy fruit smoothie would be more her style.  Kevin Anderson gave it his best but lacks the unpredictability and mania to be convincing as Jeeter (and, yes, the character is a bit of a cliché).  Emily Chisholm was a serviceable Salyer.  The only person who really pulled off his role was Josh Kenji as The Young Soldier.  Every time he entered in his crisp and shiny uniform he oozed believability; it was a welcome relief.  Last of the Boys was directed by Braden Abraham.

If, after all I've written, you still want to see this play, you have until February 10th to do so. 

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