Playwright Steven Dietz seems to have appointed himself Bard of the Baby Boomers—probably not bad territory to stake out, given the average age of theater audiences. (Read: old.) Portland theaters have flocked to his work in the past few years: Becky's New Car ran at Artists Rep, Fiction at Portland Playhouse, and Last of the Boys just opened at Third Rail Repertory. With each of these plays, Dietz plumbs middle-age, middle-class angst, but nowhere more myopically than in the '60s-obsessed Last of the Boys.
Set in a trailer park in the recent present, Last of the Boys is about two good friends, both Vietnam vets: Jeeter (Michael O'Connell) is a professor, and Ben (Damon Kupper) is a carpenter largely content to sit by the fire in the trailer park in which he's the sole remaining resident, drinking one MGD after another.
As the play opens, Ben's World War II-vet father has just died; Ben skipped the funeral, thanks to a rift that developed between the two over Robert McNamara's handling of the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Jeeter has taken up with a new woman, Salyer (Laura Faye Smith), whose own father died in Vietnam before she was born.
With Third Rail's fine production, Last of the Boys nearly passes for a better script than it is. Both Michael O'Connell and Damon Kupper lend their characters more complexity than the script demands—O'Connell gives Jeeter a sardonic edge that makes his hippie ramblings nearly tolerable, while Kupper allows a hint of panic to peer out from behind Ben's reserved façade. And as Salyer's mother Lorraine, Valerie Stevens is tremendous, imbuing her hard-bitten character a weariness and self-acceptance that make her riveting performance one of the high points of the show.
But, like many relics of the '60s, Last of the Boys is insufferably hung up on its own significance. While Dietz's boomers are drinking beer and arguing about McNamara, my generation is fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—but you wouldn't know it from this play. Even 32-year-old Salyer is fixated on the past; she listens eagerly to war stories, and tattoos her daddy issues onto her skin. (Her character, through no fault of Smith's, is completely preposterous.) If Dietz were actively trying to condemn the self-absorption of the baby boomers, he couldn't have done a better job.