The Birthday Boys

The Birthday Boys

Stop me if you've heard this one: Three U.S. Marines walk into an Iraqi storage room. OK, they don't walk. They get dragged into it. Point being, there are three of them, and they're together in this room. "Seems a bit dark and serious a scenario for a punch line," you think to yourself, but you would be wrong, because Aaron Kozak, who won the "Fringe First" award at last year's Hollywood Fringe Festival for this play, makes it much funnier than you would expect. Without being disrespectful to the gravity of military service or the war in Iraq, Kozak finds dark humor in the humanity of three Marines —privates Chester Gullette (Gregory Crafts), Lance Tyler (Sean Fitzgerald) and Colin Carney (Jim Martyka) — who have been captured from Al Asad air base by members of the Mahdi Militia. All three are bound hand and foot with duct tape and blindfolded, which limits their interactions but generates some solid physical comedy, such as when Lance tries to fight Colin and they end up writhing around like angry inchworms. Director Jacob Smith's spot-on timing effectively modulates transitions from lighter discussions of women and home lives to darker topics such as war and impending doom. Fitzgerald, as the most intense and combative of the three, genuinely makes us dislike him at times; Martyka, though quiet for long spells, believably exudes shame for attempting to abandon his brothers; Crafts, as the most mature and levelheaded of the men, pleasantly subverts the stereotypical Marine. And to top it all off, there's an unexpected twist that takes the comedy to a whole new level. A Theatre Unleashed production. NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru April 30. (818) 849-4039, theatreunleashed.com.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: March 4. Continues through April 30, 2011