'Game Over'

Its keen observation of war's stress points abroad and at home marks the cast as talents to watch.

“Game Over,” Josh Levine’s little (just 80 minutes) portrait of best friends back from Iraq, reveals the buddies’ secrets rather too quickly for comfort, including a fussy, distracting “Brokeback Desert” twist. But in other respects its keen observation of war’s stress points abroad and at home marks Levine, helmer Corby Sullivan and the cast as talents to watch.

Levine is acutely aware, as much popular fiction is not, that war doesn’t necessarily turn haunted ex-warriors into screaming lunatics. Sullivan also understands the dramatic value of characters’ repressing their pain rather than wearing it on their sleeves.

So the tension is palpable as Jimmy (Donal Thoms-Cappello) sublimates his anxiety through an old smoothie’s practiced bravado, while an unshowered, monotone Marcus (Aaron Misakian) brings the war home in 24/7 absorption in violent video games.

Each in his own way is completely believable as damaged goods, and it’s truly disturbing when the jug of their distress is briefly uncorked. We identify with Marcus’ fiancee Claire (beautifully played by Jennifer Cetrone), as she walks on eggshells to understand the wedge Iraq has inserted between the men she knew and what they’ve become.

That wedge consists of Marcus and Jimmy’s indiscretions, which raises a host of questions Levine won’t or can’t address. Is there something about war (or this war) likely to bring out suppressed desires? Is it maybe vice versa – does Levine think closet cases are drawn to combat? Or are the two phenomena unrelated, with other unspoken tensions eating away at the friendship? (And were both drawn to sexual experimentation for the same reasons?)

Evidence of all interpretations is provided, but randomly dropped hints don’t qualify as genuine ambiguity, of which Levine’s dramatic mentor Lee Blessing is a master and which the younger man may learn in time.

For now, we can only guess at what Levine could have added to our understanding of this war’s heart of darkness, had he dispensed with his tacked-on, less than credible plot line and merely dealt with the everyday backwash of America’s Iraqi presence.

Game Over

Lyric Hyperion Theater, Los Angeles; 53 seats; $25 top

Production

A From the Ground Up Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Josh Levine. Directed by Corby Sullivan. Sets, Andy Dobson; lighting, Chris Cotone; stage manager, Hannah Jackson. Opened, reviewed June 5, 2010. Runs through July 18. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast

Marcus - Aaron Misakian Jimmy - Donal Thoms-Cappello Claire - Jennifer Cetrone
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