A trio of talented young actors get stranded in the stark desert night of playwright Naomi Wallace’s cryptic drama The War Boys (★★). Perhaps familiar to some from the 2009 film adaptation, Ally Theatre’s production takes an oblique approach to Wallace’s story of three mismatched friends standing sentry at a remote section of the U.S.-Mexico border.
David (Eli Pendry), Greg (Jhonny Maldonado), and George (Robert Pike) aren’t members of law enforcement, or any official government agency. They’re barely of drinking age, if that, and more a ragtag band of restless vigilantes than stalwart guardians of the nation’s borders. They’re scared, angry kids — southwestern analogues to the suburban teens in Dear Evan Hansen, but hopped up on beer and hateful rhetoric, and with way too much idle time on their hands.
Bouncing off each other on their patch of Emily Lotz’s expansive desert set, evocatively lit by Katie McCreary, the boys while away the night chasing migrants away from the border. They boast of a deal with the Feds to earn ten dollars-a-head apprehending the men, women, and children who might make it across, but the trio lends greater focus to the stories they tell each other in the dark.
Pendry, as so-called “M-C-er” David — that is, middle-class and tightly wound — supplies a fuel line of post-collegiate resentment, and Maldonado is his combustible match as half-Texan, half-Mexican Greg. With Pike’s sensitive, working-class George, who lives to raise hell with his friends and take care of his ailing little brother, the trio conjures a potent atmosphere of macho anxiety and defensiveness. There’s sexual tension too, but no gay story content, despite the boys’ homoerotic habit of using each other to stand in for the women they fantasize about dominating.
Their stories, some involving sexual assault and gun violence, sound both painfully real, and exaggerated for maximum shock value. And, relayed via chunky stretches of monologue, the boys’ posturing yarns combine for an unwieldy whole.
Are they entertaining each other, or explaining themselves to…somebody important? As an exploration of young male conscience, it’s the play that leads the audience into the desert, then draws a gun but no conclusions. Director Matt Ripa sets a proper mood, but without lashing these wild boys to a defining rhythm or structure to help focus those meandering monologues. The War Boys’ schtick and crude follies gradually grow wearisome, even while their collective company retains a spark of suspense and intrigue.
The War Boys runs through August 31 at Joe’s Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Road, Mt. Rainier, Md. Tickets are $17 to 25. Call 301-699-1819, or visit www.allytheatrecompany.com.