Washington Post Going Out Guide: Basra Boy

By Lavanya Ramanathan
Thursday, February 17, 2011

In “Basra Boy,” Keegan Theatre’s new production, a teen aches to join the army, if only to escape the boredom and sheer claustrophobia of small-town life. If the story of a young man bound for the Mideast has a familiar ring, perhaps that’s because it could have easily been set in Topeka or Tennessee or Texas.

But “Basra Boy” takes place in Belfast, home of playwright Rosemary Jenkinson, who has witnessed the current wars affect her own insular community.

Jenkinson began to write her rapid-fire show when a homecoming parade brought soldiers back from Afghanistan and Iraq into the streets of Belfast in 2008.

There were thousands upon thousands of soldiers coming back,” Jenkinson, 43, says by phone from Belfast. “It was just in the public conscience. I was at the parade and just talking to the teenagers, who were all talking about whether they should join.”

“It’s these small, claustrophobic communities,” she adds. “This was their chance to get out and see the world.” And, she notes with a trace of incredulousness, “they were talking about money.”

The themes are something director Abigail Isaac thinks American audiences will relate to.

There are certainly . . . kids who have troubled family lives who don’t see a lot of potential in their own lives. It’s exciting that it’s one step away from an American teenager,” Isaac says. “It lets us see a little bit better. People are going to end up thinking about the kids in their own neighborhood.”

“Basra Boy” follows rowdy best friends Stig and Speedy, whose friendship – based almost solely on picking fights and using drugs together – is fractured when Speedy decides to join the army. “One sees an escape out of this world through the army; the other one thinks that’s completely insane to risk their lives,” Jenkinson explains.

But in an act of stagecraft, actor Josh Sticklin will play both friends, as well as every other role. The internal monologue is on display here, too: The characters speak their inner thoughts for the audience to hear, a tricky feat for a theater company – and “Basra Boy’s” star.