What Jeff Key has done with his remarkable one-person memoir is to reinvent what it means to be an American hero. Deployed as a U.S. serviceman to uphold what is called "Operation Iraqi Freedom," Key journalized the experience of encountering a valiant people living their lives surrounded by a bizarrely beautiful desert he immediately found sacred; even the exotic insects illustrated to him "how perfectly the world is constructed." Key also discovered that the "waste and stupidity" he saw around him as the military flagrantly misused taxpayers' hard-earned money—"How can I look them in the eye knowing what I know," Key asks through a veil of tears—was a revelation superceded only by the creeping comprehension of how the majority of the people he was serving under, not to mention those he was courageously protecting, felt about his homosexuality.
As Key sits on a rock in this otherworldly landscape listening to the score from Jesus Christ Superstar on his headphones, he braces for a battle he begins to no longer want to call his own, dreaming of a latte at the Starbucks in Hollywood, while keeping his sexual identity to himself. Key is puzzled by trying to reconcile the conundrum of fulfilling his lifelong dream to become a Marine and serve the country he loves with the fact that he sees how wrong we are to be in Iraq replacing one tyrannical regime with a new enemy.
As directed by Yuval Hadadi, Key's performance is at once deafeningly simple and monumentally epic, instantly putting a human face on the immorality of war. From the rush of pride from first donning his uniform or noticing with Ferdinand the Bull naïveté the rainbow colors of a fly's wings, to his later memory arriving home from war to sit in a Denny's wondering if this was the land he was just defending with his life, this is an American journey. Key never shuns the truth and, if art is as redemptive as it has been heralded to be throughout the ages, this small piece of American history could someday change the world.
"The Eyes of Babylon," presented by Tom Kendall, Nick Alan, and Debi Hall at the Tamarind Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Mon.-Thu. 8 p.m. Oct. 25-Jan. 13. $15. (323) 960-7726.