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Theater Review: "Last Of The Boys" At Fells Point Corner Theatre

Harry Bechkes

Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuckreviews "Last of the Boys", a play about the Vietnam War’s impact on those who fought and those left behind. The play runs through June 7 at theFells Point CornerTheatre.

J. Wynn Rousuck's review:

Steven Dietz’ 2004 play, “Last of the Boys,” is about the impact of the Vietnam War on those who fought and those who were left behind.

The play is part ghost story, part buddy play, part parent-child conflict. It’s also complex, time-shifting and occasionally surreal. At Fells Point Corner Theatre, director Barry Feinstein has cast some first-rate actors, but he hasn’t found a clear path through this thorny text.

The opening seems simple enough. Jeeter – played by Tony Colavito with long grey hair, John Lennon sunglasses, bandana tied around his head – shows up at the home of his friend Ben. The two men fought side by side in Vietnam three decades ago, but their lives have taken different paths since then.

Jeeter is a college professor who specializes in teaching the Sixties. Colavito plays him as a compulsive talker, a man obsessed with the era.

Mark Squirek plays Jeter’s friend Ben as far more reserved, nearly a recluse. He lives in the last remaining trailer in a deserted mobile home park on a toxic site in California. Designer Bush Greenbeck’s set depicts these rundown quarters with ramshackle detail.

When Jeeter arrives, he’s just come from Ben’s father’s funeral – which Ben chose not to attend. Ben’s father, we soon learn, worked at Ford Motor Company for Robert McNamara, before McNamara became Secretary of Defense in ’61. It’s a bit of history – deeply personal history for Ben – that turns out to literally haunt him.

At various junctures in the play, film of McNamara is projected on the side of Ben’s trailer. A Young Soldier appears and helps Ben into a corporate-style jacket and tie. Then Ben, mysteriously, takes on McNamara’s persona -- holding a press conference, or responding to questions from the ghostly Soldier, played here by Adam Zoellner.

Including actual footage of McNamara helps set these sections apart, but it’s not enough. There’s a thin line between intriguing the viewer and confusing him. This production crosses that line.

It’s difficult to tell if these other-worldly scenes are all in Ben’s mind since the war, or if they’ve been triggered by his father’s death. Additional clues – like larger lighting changes – could help us grasp the truly disturbing transformation Ben undergoes.

Ben isn’t the only one whose life and beliefs are shaken by the Young Soldier and lingering ties to the past. Jeeter is traveling with a heavily tattooed young woman. She’s also haunted by Vietnam – in her case because her father died there before she was born.

Playwright Dietz adds a melodramatic note near the end of the play. This resolves the parent-child conflicts a bit too neatly. But considering some of the perplexing events leading up to it, a neat resolution is rather welcome.

Dietz is a prolific playwright whose work has been produced by area theaters from Everyman to Olney. His subject matter ranges widely. In “Last of the Boys,” the way he intermingles the real and the supernatural meets with mixed results at Fells Point Corner. But one lesson comes through with undeniable clarity: The fallout from war, any war, is messy, and it carries over from generation to generation.

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years.