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By Robert Delaney
A couple of Vietnam vets work through some lingering issues decades after the conflict ended, along with a mother and daughter and another mysterious figure in the Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company's production of Steven Dietz's Last of the Boys at 1515 Broadway, across from the Detroit Opera House.
It is play that ranges from raucous humor to intense drama, and director Frannie Shepherd-Bates has given us a moving production with the help of some of the best local acting talent.
Dave Davies is Ben and Alan Madlane is Jeeter, the two veterans. Lisa Melinn is Salyer, the younger woman Jeeter has taken up with. Linda Rabin Hammell is Salyer's mother, Lorraine. Matt Lockwood is the shade of the Young Soldier.
Davies gives a very strong performance as Ben, the trailer park dwelling vet whose life has apparently never been normal since his return.
Madlane brings his knack for portraying off-beat characters to Jeeter, who despite having made a career as a college professor is every bit as tied up with the war - and 1960s culture - as Ben.
Hammell also shines as Lorraine, as she always does with edgy female roles.
And while it takes a while to figure out just what is going on when Ben goes into his spells and the Young Soldier appears, we come to appreciate Lockwood's performance as the spectral visitor.
Gwen Lindsay has designed a convincing set for this production, and Lauren Montgomery's costumes show an appreciation for the nature and circumstances of the characters.
The effect of Jesse Shepherd-Bates' interesting original incidental music was lessened by its being played too loud, making it a challenge at times to hear the actors.
Melinn brings a combination of spooky weirdness and intense emotional involvement to her portrayal of Salyer.
An event such as America's Vietnam experience doesn't just end when it is officially over, but has effects that continue to play out in people's lives for many years thereafter, and Dietz has explored an aspect of that in this 2004 play.
SHOW DETAILS: Last of the Boys continues through April 2 at 1515 Broadway, between John R and Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit. For reservations or ticket information, call 313-408-7269 or go to www.magentagiraffe.org.
Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, March 17, 2011
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