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LA Theater Review

Box 27

Michael Norman Mann's play, which won a GLAAD Award in 1997, offers a tough examination of the human costs of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. The title refers to a box on the Marine enlistment form, which apparently gay enlistees must check; the very existence of such a box seems to be a violation of the policy in question.

Stephen (Joe Jeffrey), a young Marine captain and the son of the deeply homophobic Colonel Mills (Bert Hinchman), is the lover of profoundly closeted Major Howard Kurtis (Michael Harrity), who is also Stephen's father's best friend. When Stephen decides that his devotion to honor and truth demands that he come out as gay, despite the predictable consequences, Kurtis is panicked and angry at what he considers a betrayal that may expose him and destroy his career. When Stephen comes out to his father, in front of a circle of friends, the results are explosive.

Mann's play is thoughtful, potent, and relatively free of stereotypes. But it's not entirely satisfying. It's a bit talky, and Stephen comes across as a rather self-righteous prig, heedless of the trouble his decision may cause for others, while Kurtis ultimately seems pathetically, if understandably, craven. And many issues go unexamined, such as what motivates a young gay man to decide to embark on an affair with his father's best friend?

Director Larry Lederman has assembled a taut, dynamic production, well-cast and well-acted. Jeffrey and Harrity capture the deeply conflicted natures of the lovers, and Hinchman provides a passionate portrait of the father whose son's revelations provoke rage and disbelief. Ted Ryan is toxically eloquent as a gay-bashing lieutenant, and George C. Simms delivers rueful wisdom as a black officer who preaches tolerance. Travis W. Goodman shines in a couple of smaller roles, and Regina Mocey ably rounds out the cast as a worldly tavern-keeper.

Presented by and at the Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Apr. 20-Jun. 10. (818) 506-0600.

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