Saturday, 14 May 2016

Review Last Of The Boys

Last of The Boys
by Steven Dietz

Publish and Be Damned

When does protecting one's interests turn into a massacre? When does commemoration turn into a commercial opportunity and even fetishism? When does accountability turn into expedient contrition with no penalty?

Weighty topics which, we felt, are all touched on in the European premiere of Steven Dietz's atmospheric 2004 play Last Of The Boys about two Vietnam War veterans, written a year after the start of the Iraq War.

At the same time, rest assured there is a leavening of wit and laughs along with the ingredients for a slippery drama given a careful production by director John Haidar.

In an abandoned Californian trailer park lives Ben (Demetri Goritsas), a Vietnam veteran, and the last man standing after all the other residents have sold out to a company also responsible for polluting the land.

Ben  is haunted not so much by the ghosts of his Vietnam comrades, but split by his late father's own link with the Secretary of State of Defense, former Ford executive Robert McNamara who knowingly presided over the sending out of hundreds of thousands of young men whose lives were cut short in Vietnam. Many years after the war, he put his recriminations into print. 

Academic Jeeter (Todd Boyce), inextricably linked to Ben, has built a career teaching "The 60's" with a book deal in the offing. He makes his annual summer pilgrimage to see his former comrade in arms. But this time he's come straight from Ben's father's funeral and is now accompanied by  35-year-old Salyer (Zoë  Tapper) whose arrival is quickly followed by the entrance of her feisty mother, Lorraine (Wendy Nottingham).

Jeeter himself has followed The Rolling Stones around on tour and, while  a fan, his main concern is to hold up a painted sign with a surprising piece of resonant advice on it providing a rueful laugh out loud moment.

The play, stretches right back to political and national icon Abraham Lincoln, setting in perspective  the mythologising of govermental misjudgements into a containable catharsis for a traumatized generation..

While the men jostle, bond and josh, the women are more functional and rather - well - male. It is to impress the younger generation in the shape of  goth-like Salyer that Ben commits the ultimate bond-breaking plagiarism while her mother swigs scotch and survives.   

Nevertheless, for most of the play, we were engrossed in the give and take between all the characters, including a ghostly soldier (Cavan Clarke) supporting and briefing Ben, transformed into McNamaara justifying military tactics..  

Yet TLT and her buddy are wavering whether the final portion of the play is a clunky jarring avalanche of liberal affront at Vietnam or a more ironic comment on mantras repeated on both sides like a needle stuck in a record groove.

We are inclined to think the latter but this isn't clear in an otherwise finely-acted and directed play. Maybe those last scenes would work better in a movie (Keanu Reeves for Ben came to mind!). Still, for an intricate production, with an evocative set by Max Dorey and lighting by Christopher Nairne,  an amber/green light from TLT and her own hippy camper van. 

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