Spotlight: Last of the Boys

Bain Boehlke

Steven Dietz's Last of the Boys digs into the long post-Vietnam social hangover through the fraught and complicated friendship between war buddies Ben (Steven D'Ambrose) and Jeeter (Terry Hempleman). The play, which ran last season at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre after premiering at Princeton's McCarter Theatre, now opens locally at the Jungle this Friday. Director Bain Boehlke, reached just before a rehearsal last week, had unreserved praise for Dietz's script and the way it resonates with history. "It deals with these two Vietnam vets, the year 2000, and the collateral damage of war," Boehlke says. "Not only for the soldiers who suffer, but families, loved ones, and communities on both sides of a conflict." Dietz uses a photo of Ben's deceased father with Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara as a dramatic springboard, and matters are complicated by the presence of Jeeter's young squeeze Salyer (Heidi Bakke), and eventually her mother Lorraine (Camille D'Ambrose). Salyer's father died in the war, and she's taken extraordinary measures to etch the memory of the war dead upon her flesh (we won't spoil precisely how). The historic parallels between then and now are, of course, painful to contemplate (pick up a Life magazine from the late '60s and read the debate between "stay the course" and "cut and run" if you need vivid proof). "It's an important and impassioned play about the carnage of war," Boehlke adds. "And that's of course on people's minds today with Afghanistan, Iraq, the Israeli-Lebanon conflict." Dietz's drama seems to drive home the notion that surviving a war is one thing, but enduring the years that come later can prove even more difficult. One also suspects, given this cast, that we won't reach that point without a fair amount of humor along the way. "It's very moving and very funny, and has an important perspective," concludes Boehlke. "There are issues of just and unjust war, if you will, with Vietnam and Iraq. The motivations in each case are questionable. We tend not to realize the collateral damage of war that is so harrowing, and takes so many decades to heal children, parents, lovers. So it's a play that's very important now."

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