The jammed-up Vietnam vet, as a character, achieved its epitome in 1998 at the hands of the Coen brothers, but writers keep going back to the Walter Sobchak well. Steven Dietz's 2004 drama, in which the prolific playwright endeavors to explain why America is still hung up on the '60s, draws straight from the archetype. A pair of Army buddies—Jeeter (Michael O'Connell), a groovy community-college professor whose taste in music and spirituality were frozen in 1975, and Ben (Damon Kupper), a reclusive carpenter who mostly just scowls—down endless bottles of Miller High Life in the littered yard outside Ben's trailer (vividly rendered by scenic designer Demetri Pavlatos), noisily flinging the empties into a dumpster and talking about anything but their ghosts. Ben has father issues so convoluted he missed the old man's funeral; Jeeter went, and brought back a suitcase full of souvenirs and a thirtysomething girlfriend (Laura Faye Smith) he picked up along the way. She's got father issues, too (he was killed in 'Nam, naturally), and works them out in the beds of veterans.
Dietz, seemingly aware that he's stuck on a well-beaten path, takes a page from Shakespeare and throws in some ghosts. A young soldier repeatedly appears from the wings, prompting Ben to channel, in the New Age-y literal sense, Robert McNamara, who happens to have been a close friend of his estranged father. When he's caught speechifying in the dark, a shouted debate over who bears the responsibility for the war, who owes whom an apology and how the dead should be remembered ensues. This is all performed fairly well, but I don't believe a word of it. I do not buy Ben's dismissal of his father, or Jeeter's gooshy mysticism, or the secret under his girlfriend's clothes. And I especially do not believe that four people broken by the war (the girlfriend's mom, played by Valerie Stevens, also makes an appearance) would all blame McNamara alone. From where I stand, there's no debate: The Vietnam war was an unjustifiable crime against humanity, and McNamara is no more or less reprehensible than Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and the rest of the warmongering scum responsible. Dietz lays out a lot of anger and guilt, but none of it rings so true as Walter Sobchak crushing a Corvette with a crowbar.
SEE IT: World Trade Center Theater, 121 SW Salmon St., 235-1101. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes May 29. $15-$32.