The Birthday Boys Theatre Review - Laughing in the Face of Death

Theatre Unleashed presents "The Birthday Boys" at NoHo Stages through March 27, 2011

Lance Tyler ( Sean Fitzgerald), a Marine serving in Iraqi, is kidnapped while guarding a supply depot. He’s pissed because, in more ways than one, he is only in this situation because of his fellow Marine Colin Carney. At the first sight of danger, Colin ran, leaving Tyler to fight the enemy alone. And he is only on guard duty that night because he switched shifts so he and Colin could spend the evening, celebrating their birthdays that both happened to be today. Bound by duct tape and blindfolded, his efforts to fight his captors are futile.

Sean Fitzgerald as Lance in the Theatre Unleashed production of "The Birthday Boys"

Private Chester Gullette ( Gregory Crafts) is soon dragged into this supply shack with Lance. All-Marine, Chester repeats nothing but name, rank and serial number until he knows he is alone with a friendly. As the level-headed one of the two, Chester has to talk Lance down from his gung-ho let’s escape rants; it will be the first of many times he will talk Lance down during their captivity together. While Lance is pissed at begin in the wrong place at the wrong time, Chester laments not being stateside to witness the born of his first child.

Gregory Crafts as Chester in the Theatre Unleashed production of "The Birthday Boys"


After a pathetic failed escape attempt, they are beaten down and Colin Carney ( Jim Martyka) is dragged into the room as well. Naturally Lance wants to kill Colin for running away and leaving him to be ambushed by the enemy. Colin can’t apologize enough for Lance’s liking. Colin does not seem very concerned about being called a coward. His real concern is whether their captors have asked for ransom and how quickly the US Government will attempt a rescue.


To keep their panic at bay and manage their fears, the soldiers try to shrug off the dire of their circumstances with jokes about the best ways to be executed and making bets about which one of them can hold their water the longest. It is the only thing keeping them together once the Iraqi Leader ( Gabriel Reed) begins his interrogations. When the trio of privates does not cooperate, the Leader starts the clock winding down to their executions.

Jim Martyka (l) and Gabriel Reed (r) in the Theatre Unleashed production of "The Birthday Boys"


Theatre Unleashed has delivered yet another show chock full of great performances. Principals  Gregory Crafts, Sean Fitzgerald and Jim Martyka sustain an impressive level of tension through the better part of the show, with half-relationship that quickly coalesce into a brotherhood in the face of imminent peril. Director Jacob Smith skillfully modulates the pieces tensions and eruption, the humor and the quiet reflections. Well Done.


The Birthday Boys makes ridiculously risky and courageous choice to have the three captives bond and blindfolded the entire time. Not that sight is a prerequisite for great acting – but there are undeniable obstacles to the choice. The practical bonds become invaluable in the creditability of the entire piece.


My only critique would be that the script is a touch overwritten. There are times when the minutia becomes less about character and creates a real drag on the momentum. Ninety minutes really is the sweet spot for the show’s duration, anymore than that and the tension begins to yield to time.

Jim Martyka as Colin in the Theatre Unleashed production of "The Birthday Boys"


The Birthday Boys is a sporadic blend of high drama and desperate, nervous humor. Ripe ironies buck up against the most sophomoric of playground banter, born of staunch live-and-death moments. There is no balance in the two tones, and as a result the audience – just like the captives – is kept off balance, all united as subjects to the precarious unknown.

It is interesting to explore the things that are entangled within the masculine survival instinct and what defines weakness in the company of men.


** $1 of every ticket sold to this production will be donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund .**


The Theatre Unleashed production of The Birthday Boys is playing now thru  March 27, 2011 at:


NoHo Stages

4934 Lankersham Boulevard

North Hollywoood, CA 91601


Friday-Saturday @ 8pm

Sunday @ 2pm

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