- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

‘Throat” will get you in the gut. A raw, fearless look at returning Iraq combat veterans, Mando Alvarado’s new play reveals that although these men and women endure traumas similar to those faced by Vietnam vets, many of their experiences also are unique to this time and this war.

Mr. Alvarado, a friend and collaborator of director Michael Ray Escamilla’s since they were children in southern Texas, has a knack for the bruised, rapid-fire dialogue that recalls playwrights David Mamet and Stephen Adly Guirgis. Slangy, profane, staccato in rhythm, this dialogue dances in your ears, especially in the verbal exchanges between men — in this case, two Marine buddies, Cesar Rodriguez (Raul Castillo) and Jack Nicholas (Todd Spicer).

Cesar is back from a long stint in Iraq, living in a tent in an abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn and talking to pigeons. His problems readjusting are eased by the presence of Jack. The two endlessly shoot the breeze, trash-talking in a mix of military jargon and profanity so excessive it takes on a comic life of its own.

Cesar claims not to remember everything that happened in Iraq, but he is seized with guilt and shame. The pain drives him deeper into isolation until a disastrous pickup in a bar with the vibrant boozehound Maggie (Lisa Sauber) cracks him wide open. Even though the sexual encounter is a bust, an inexplicable, frantic bond forms between Maggie and Cesar, forcing him to rejoin the land of the living.

“Throat” may not be the most groundbreaking work out there, as it traffics in cliches we have seen in every war drama since “Seven Against Thebes.” You can see its central plot twist coming from miles away. The play also contains serendipitous, quasimystical occurrences and chance meetings that are awfully hard to swallow, although the trio of exemplary actors do their part to close the gaps in credibility and logic.

Mr. Castillo mesmerizes as the Marine, messed up but also ingratiatingly self-aware and funny. His reluctance to forgive himself will tear you apart. Mr. Spicer brings outsized personality and brio to the role of the proud, extroverted Jack — qualities shared by Miss Sauber’s spectacularly neurotic Maggie, one of those people who falls apart the more she tries to keep it together.

Under the sure guidance of Mr. Escamilla, Mr. Alvarado’s invigoratingly fresh dialogue crackles with cocksure, crazy energy, although the scenes between Cesar and Maggie suffer from self-awareness that frequently renders them artificial and preachy. Mr. Alvarado also has a way of slinging pop-culture and ethnic references that speak to a whole new generation of theatergoers while adding depth to his characters.

The Mead Theatre Lab is a modest space, but the production values for “Throat” are excellent, including Stephen Arnold’s striking lighting and a sound design by Gregg Fisher that subtly conveys the disparate aural atmospheres of New York and Iraq without pounding the point home. (Visitors to the theater should consider taking the Metro or allow extra driving time because Cirque du Soleil is around the corner and finding a parking space can be a challenge.)

The personal stories of Iraq war veterans are just starting to emerge in film and theater, and “Throat” shows the peculiar challenges of a war fought where suicide bombers, insurgents and terrorists subvert the rules of combat. When everything and everywhere is a battlefield, how can you ever know peace?


WHAT: “Throat” by Mando Alvarado

WHERE: Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Though Nov. 18.

TICKETS: $15 to $20

PHONE: 212/352-3101


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