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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Birthday Boys

Experimental production company, Ion Nibiru, has delivers a definitive dark comedy about the warped role that honour, dignity and desensitisation play at a military base in the modern age.
By Hilary Simmons
December 21, 2011
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By Hilary Simmons
December 21, 2011
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What do you want for your birthday, never mind Christmas? Consider this: tickets to a cool indie send-up of modern military ruthlessness that easily checks in as one of the best plays of 2011. Can’t bear the idea of another heavy-handed hostage drama that bludgeons you over the head with a “war-is-baaad” sledgehammer? Relax, The Birthday Boys is surprisingly hilarious: placing $100 bets about who will piss their pants first, pledging eternal devotion to the pursuit of post-war pussy, and parodying Braveheart’s cry of “FREEDOM!” is the only thing keeping these U.S. Marines together.

There are three of them, blindfolded and bound. Sprawled on the floor of a supply warehouse, they brace themselves for imminent interrogation and torture by their Iraqi captors. All lowly Privates without the brains, ambition or balls to rank any higher, the three Marines have little in common beyond shared experience of sentry duty. Lance is an unabashed playboy who gets all the best one-liners, Carney is an annoying sci-fi nerd who thinks they’re only stuck in this mess because the U.S. military hasn’t yet implanted computer chips inside troops to track them via satellite, and Guillette plays reluctant big brother to the two younger men whilst pining for his heavily pregnant wife.

Following a few failed escape attempts and some competitively crude banter, we meet their captors: big, menacing, brutal-booted men headed by a shark-smiled leader who explains to the captives that they must make filmed messages calling for the unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. When they refuse to cooperate, both the terrorists and the audience begin the countdown to their executions. Who will go first? What’s most interesting here is how Lance, Carney and Guillette react to stress; extreme stress, like having AK-47s jammed inside their mouths and electrodes attached to their nipples.

Ion Nibiru, a consciously experimental production company, has delivered here a definitive dark comedy about the warped role that honour, dignity and desensitisation play at a military base in the modern age. Director Darren Gilshenan contrasts the locker room humour with lots of cringeworthy scenes of coercion and abuse, then tops it all off with a cleverly-crafted twist. It’s one you’ll wish you had a $100 bet riding on. This play is called “The Birthday Boys” for a bloody good reason, but you won’t hear it from me. Go treat yourself like it’s your own birthday.

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