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Deep Throat

Maggie (Lisa Sauber) studied dance with ballet master W. Axl Rose

Maggie (Lisa Sauber) studied dance with ballet master W. Axl Rose

Most of us can exile the boogeymen from our pasts with a few stern words and a bit of false optimism about what comes next. Now, though, America is in the process of creating a legion of young men and women who have seen and done things that won't be so easy to dismiss once they return home: the American veterans of Iraq.

Mando Alvarado fictionalizes one such story in Throat, which opened in New York in 2005 and toured to Washington, D.C., and Texas last year. The events begin with a young man named Cesar (Raúl Castillo) feeding a flock of unseen pigeons. Sure, it's a little odd that Cesar, who wears a dress shirt and slacks, is on a first-name basis with so many dirty birds. But nothing much seems amiss until the scene dissolves and we see Cesar at his job as a temp worker.

Here, he stamps envelopes and trades barbs with buddy Jack (Todd Spicer). This pair, we learn, served together in Iraq, and Cesar is having a little trouble adjusting to his return home. He lives in a tent in an abandoned warehouse, for instance, and is liable to jump three feet in the air if someone accidentally bumps him.

Castillo's Cesar is a sympathetic figure, a man transparently haunted but determined to plot a better course. Yet Alvarado and director Michael Ray Escamilla cut some switchbacks into the path, which keeps the audience from seeing what's around the next corner.

The show takes on the feel of a series of short scenes, slipping back and forth in time (and reality) while deepening the portrayal of Cesar's post-traumatic stress. In the opening scene he brags to Jack about landing a chick in a bar the night before, but then the action slingshots back to the actual events in question. True, Cesar encountered a comely and willing lass named Maggie (Lisa Sauber), but the tryst ended in disaster. Soon enough Jack escorts Cesar to a shrink for vets, where a startling coincidence awaits.

To delve into the intricacies of the plot from this point on would be to spoil its uncanny synchronicities (that is, if you're inclined to overlook the work's inherent improbabilities in the first place). Suffice it to say that Maggie becomes involved with Cesar, and that she tries to help him out of the mist of his affliction. Sauber is earthy and seductively self-mocking as Cesar's troubled would-be rescuer, and her interplay with Castillo is appropriately volatile.

Yet I didn't make it to the finish line without getting lost out on the course. Jack shows up unexpectedly at one point in Maggie's apartment, and it appears her own reality may have some soft spots. It doesn't help that Spicer also shows up as an angry barkeep, calling into question how many characters he plays, and whether more than one of them are named Jack. (Handy hint: There's only one Jack. It makes sense by the end. No need to thank me; it's my job.)

Finally, this three-person cast comes together in a scene filled with guilt, trauma, and culpability. For what? For everything, really. Casting its piece of personal anguish into society's reservoir, Throat recalls such watershed dramas as The Deer Hunter and Platoon. (In fact, Alvarado's unorthodox narrative technique might be well suited to the screen). Like Cesar and his cohort, the audience leaves the theater pained at what's happened before, and queasily unsure what comes next.