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his singing is truly spectacular. He and McKenna duet warmly on “Only Us,” one of the show’s stronger examples of piano-pop uplift. McKenna’s Zoe stands out, in song or in tears, for looking, acting, and sounding like an actual teenager who’s navigating a terribly confusing time in her life. Jared Goldsmith, as Evan’s cynical friend Jared Kleinman — “We’re family friends. That’s a whole different thing, and you know it.” — likewise captures the sense and voice of a whip-smart teen with a lot to say, who reveals even more by what his words fail to say. By contrast, the parents in the play — Evan’s stressed-out single mom Heidi (Jessica Phillips), and Connor and Zoe’s combat-

ive parents Cynthia (Christiane Noll) and Larry (Aaron Lazar) — register as mere theatrical vessels for involving grownups in this important conversation. Phillips and Noll are convincing in their motherly roles, but the show really pulses to life with the interaction between the kids, Evan and Jared and Connor and Zoe, and Alana Beck (Phoebe Koyabe), the quiet classmate who seizes upon Evan Hansen’s big little lies in order to grab some ill-gotten glory for herself. There’s something so disappointingly dishonorable, yet credible, about Alana’s conduct in spinning fake news into a fullscale scam. Time will tell, but she might wind up someday being the show’s signature character. l


Dear Evan Hansen runs through September 8, at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $79 to $175. The show is sold-out, but last-minute tickets may become available for some performances. Check for availability. Call 202-467-4600, or visit

War Is Hell


The actors shine but the text perplexes in Ally Theatre’s underwhelming drama, The War Boys. By André Hereford

TRIO OF TALENTED YOUNG ACTORS GET STRANDED IN THE STARK desert night of playwright Naomi Wallace’s cryptic drama The War Boys (HHHHH). Perhaps familiar to some from the 2009 film adaptation, Ally Theatre’s production takes an oblique approach to Wallace’s story of three mismatched friends standing sentry at a remote section of the U.S.-Mexico border. David (Eli Pendry), Greg (Jhonny Maldonado), and George (Robert Pike) aren’t members of law enforcement, or any official government agency. They’re barely of drinking age, if that, and more a ragtag band of restless vigilantes than stalwart guardians of the nation’s borders. They’re scared, angry kids — southwestern analogues to the suburban teens in Dear Evan Hansen, but hopped up on beer and hateful rhetoric, and with way too much idle time on their hands. Bouncing off each other on their patch of Emily Lotz’s expansive desert set, evoc-

atively lit by Katie McCreary, the boys while away the night chasing migrants away from the border. They boast of a deal with the Feds to earn ten dollars-ahead apprehending the men, women, and children who might make it across, but the trio lends greater focus to the stories they tell each other in the dark. Pendry, as so-called “M-C-er” David — that is, middle-class and tightly wound — supplies a fuel line of post-collegiate resentment, and Maldonado is his combustible match as half-Texan, half-Mexican Greg. With Pike’s sensitive, working-class George, who lives to raise hell with his friends and take care of his ailing little brother, the trio conjures a potent atmosphere of macho anxiety and defensiveness. There’s sexual tension too, but no gay story content, despite the boys’ homoerotic habit of using each other to stand in for the women they fantasize about dominating. Their stories, some involving sexual assault and gun violence, sound both painfully real, and exaggerated for maximum shock value. And, relayed via chunky stretches of monologue, the boys’ posturing yarns combine for an unwieldy whole. Are they entertaining each other, or explaining themselves to...somebody important? As an exploration of young male conscience, it’s the play that leads the audience into the desert, then draws a gun but no conclusions. Director Matt Ripa sets a proper mood, but without lashing these wild boys to a defining rhythm or structure to help focus those meandering monologues. The War Boys’ schtick and crude follies gradually grow wearisome, even while their collective company retains a spark of suspense and intrigue. l

The War Boys runs through August 31 at Joe’s Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Road, Mt. Rainier, Md. Tickets are $17 to 25. Call 301-699-1819, or visit 38


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