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at the Hayworth

Shem Bitterman's play centers on veteran military police officer Maj. Jonathan Fredericks (Jack Stehlin), whose situation is a sad one. His wife has died, his son was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, and his daughter Bianca (Katie Lowes) is simple-minded and seriously unstable. Unbeknownst to her father, she gives herself indiscriminately to the GIs on base, as she might rescue a wounded bird. The sex, she says, silences the noises in her head. When Fredericks is assigned to investigate a possible atrocity involving the shooting of two Afghan civilians, the situation grows more dangerous. Bianca latches on to the shooter in question, Pvt. Nick Granville (Ben Bowen), and persuades him to run away with her. But Granville was damaged goods before he entered the military: He's not overly bright, he joined up to escape an abusive father, and he has been taught to hate and dehumanize Muslims. Bianca and Nick become a pair of borderline psychotics on the loose.

Fredericks' superior, Col. Davis (Eric Pierpoint), gives the major 48 hours to find the AWOL soldier and Bianca. Fredericks reluctantly joins forces with a smart and savvy reporter (Wendy Makkena), whose contacts can facilitate his search as they track the runaways to Montana, home of Granville's idolized but amoral platoon sergeant (Josh Allen).

It's a grim, eloquent, tautly written play, skillfully directed by Steve Zuckerman on a bleak, all-gray set. Stehlin richly captures the grief and gravitas of a career officer who must face the fact that his personal hell has become enmeshed with the hell of war. Lowes and Bowen make the hapless lovers scarily volatile and deeply touching, and Makkena is wonderfully wry as the tough reporter. Pierpoint vividly sketches an officer torn between implementing military justice and staving off damaging publicity, while Allen carves a scarifying cameo of the cynical, rapacious, drug-riddled NCO.

Presented by Circus Theatricals at the Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Dark Dec. 21, 22, 28, 29, and Jan. 4-5.) Dec. 1-Feb. 9. (323) 960-1054.

Reviewed by Neal Weaver

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