Arts » Theater

Enigmatic wartime angst in Bully Boy

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In Sandi Toksvig's military drama, BULLY BOY, Major Oscar Hadley reflects that more British soldiers in the Falklands War committed suicide than died during battle. Hadley knows this firsthand, having acquired his wheelchair during that profoundly bewildering tour of duty. The shared story of that injury leads Private Eddie Clark, just back from Afghanistan, to conclude, "Because you went to war, you lost your legs. Because I went to war, I lost my mind."

In this disturbing 90-minute play, Hadley tries to unwrap an enigma while investigating Clark's actions during an Afghan village attack that left a woman and an 8-year-old child dead. But instead of confronting what's commonly called the fog of war, Hadley encounters its shrapnel instead: contradictory, blown-apart fragments that form no coherent picture.

Hadley and Clark's relationship changes during the extremes of combat and its aftermath. Since Tokvig leaves a lot of space for us to fill in between episodic scenes, the jagged edges of these transitions remain exposed—some more so than I am prepared to believe. A pivotal scene turns the tables far too conveniently on her characters; elsewhere, technical design helps director Kari Barclay underline the schisms.

Justin Brent Johnson convinces as a frustrated Private Clark, and company founder Gregor McElvogue excavates the pain of Major Hadley. But the enigma of Bully Boy remains unsolved at the end. Perhaps it must be so. If we knew the answer, the face of war might lose the mask that lets us bear to look on it.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Imagine that"

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