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A conflicted, yet dutiful, Marine

'The Eyes of Babylon' is Jeff Key's account of being deployed in Iraq and its lingering effects.

June 03, 2005|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

A delayed-action charge lurks beneath the free-form flow of Jeff Key's "The Eyes of Babylon," and its reach is acute. By placing his account of being a gay Marine in Iraq and its aftereffects in the guise of confessional performance art, writer-performer Key disarms our defenses with considerable humor and lingering punch.

Brick Williamson's bare set at Tamarind Theatre, twin drapes behind three simple cubes, suggests scores of Highways outings over the years. Peg Macaffee Routledge's soundtrack roars out "Boom!" by System of a Down as a violent collage designed by Edward Rehr is projected. A reveille phone ring introduces Key, naked beneath a blanket at center, as his mother's Sept. 11 phone message begins his purposeful reverie.

It quickly moves through deployment to Iraq, with Act 1 ending in a poetic depiction of bloodlust worthy of Allen Ginsberg. Act 2 brings on the big guns, climaxing with Key's coming out on CNN and a powerful final metaphor.

Key has an easy physicality and unforced charm, pitched directly between Dennis and Randy Quaid. Whether he can invest other roles with the dexterity and simplicity he applies to Lance Cpl. Jeff Key, USMC, is uncertain, but I wouldn't bet against it. Moreover, "Eyes" reveals a born writer, its lyrically jagged text approaching Marc Wolf's Obie-winning "Another American: Asking and Telling," not to mention fellow Marine Sean Huze's scorching "The Sand Storm."

Director Yuval Hadadi frugally steers this consciousness-raiser past solo-show pitfalls, with a potent ally in lighting designer Brian Staubach. The sole cavil: early flashes of winking self-comment that, along with the interval, should go, to double the force of Key's beautifully written, affecting testimony.

*

'The Eyes of Babylon'

Where: Tamarind Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays

Ends: June 19

Price: $15

Contact: (323) 960-7726 or www.plays411.com/babylon

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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