The Last of the Boys is the story of two aging Vietnam vets spending a summer drinking away the ghosts of their past. For Jeeter (Rod Wolfe), the ghosts are his constant rehashing of spending the '60s as a history professor. Ben (Kevin Labrum)faces them literally with regular visits from a non-corporeal corporal who addresses Ben as Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara. Ben and Jeeter's relaxation ends with the death of Ben's father and a visit from Jeeter's new girlfriend, Salyer, and her mother, Lorraine.
After the show, two women, who lived through Vietnam, gushed about how moving the play was. For me, lacking those emotional anchors, it was a slightly convoluted plot that relied too heavily on war imagery to carry the weight of the dramatic tension.
Ben doesn't want anything other than to be left alone. But he does nothing to forward that goal , which makes it curious why he should be the one on stage for the whole of the play, or why this slice of his life is the one we're privy to. Additionally, Labrum's portrayal is more whimsical than brooding, even when he's raging at Salyer about what the '60s were "really like."
Jeeter, however, stalks The Rolling Stones, regularly flies off the handle and occasionally locks up completely mid-sentence. Until it's unexpectedly dropped that he's a college professor towards the middle of the play, the impression is that he's mentally ill and would live in a van—if he could get things together enough to get one—making it a stretch to see him lording over a classroom.
When Salyer and Lorraine arrive, conversations far too intimate for the situation ensue with implausible ease; both women are also facing personal trauma based on the Vietnam War and their issues come to a messy head alongside Jeeter's and Ben's.
Through it all, nothing is on the line dramatically. Ben wants nothing, so he has nothing to lose. Jeeter could lose Salyer, but he hasn't known her long and everything else in his life is a bulletproof version of peachy. Salyer doesn't even really love Jeeter and is just enjoying the ride as she searches for herself. And Lorraine's presence is only a foil of Ben's admiration for MacNamara and Jeeter's interest in her daughter.
That's why until the mid-second act when they start slinging brutal truths about the war at one another, there isn't much about situation that's compelling. And even then, it's less about the characters or their lives than it is political talking points about Vietnam ... points that have been made many times in many ways.
The two women I spoke to after the play said they were moved by the portrayal of the way war leaves people broken in ways that aren't visible to the naked eye. I got that. But that they were broken in some way alone wasn't quite enough.
Overall, The Last of the Boys offered good dialogue, decent acting and a solid presentation. At its best moments it played like an ex-military version of The Odd Couple. But its greatest ambition seemed to be thematic, and in that respect, its reach unfortunately exceeded its grasp.
The play runs Wednesdays through Saturdays until August 28 at The Visual Arts Collective. Tickets are available at the door. More information available at alleyrep.org.