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Pugilist Specialist 

Thursday, Sep 25 2008
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“Victory forgives dishonesty” is the telling slogan that punctuates Adriano Shaplin’s military comedy, wherein a quartet of U.S. Marines with varying specialties is recruited for a “black” operation, i.e., to assassinate a “target” in some Middle-Eastern country. We observe their initial meetings and some gender tension among them — one officer, Lt. Emma Stein (Kimberly Rose-Wolter) is female and the actor bears a striking resemblance to Lynndie England, though Stein’s “secret” past is quite different from the Abu Ghraib inmate-brutality scandal that tarnished England’s reputation. Some verbal sniping over a generation gap also emerges between young Lt. Travis Freud (Linc Hand) and 50-year-old Colonel Johns (Donald Agnelli, looking robust with a buzzcut silver pate). Finally, there’s the issue of “objectivity,” raised by Lt. Stoddard (Max Williams), a piercingly smart officer whose absence of almost any passion becomes a kind of comic motif. The humor in Shaplin’s play comes from the precocious intelligence of the quartet, and from the tart eloquence with which they articulate philosophies of life and survival that have been shaped by life and death in the military. When the mission finally gets under way, the play becomes cinematic — a style that betrays the hypertheatricality of its setup. And its final twist, which delights in mocking the order we try to carve from the chaos of our own emotions, is both amusing and schematic at the same time. Allison Sie’s crisply stylized direction of the fine ensemble comes with a choreographic precision on which the comedy depends. Imagine watching a military parade: This is a production that crawls inside the tiny missteps that would go unnoticed by anybody but those wearing the marching boots. And Shaplin’s mastery of military terminology adds credence, and horror, to the troubles we’re creating all over the world, often in secret.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Sept. 17. Continues through Oct. 19, 2008
Reach the writer at smorris@laweekly.com

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