Opening Nights: Black Watch

Black Watch

The Paramount, 911 Pine St., 877-784-4849, $21.25–$55. Runs Daily through May 5.

Crackling with machismo, set on a stage where there’s no hiding from the roar of artillery fire and IEDs, Black Watch may be the first theatrical event to cause PTSD in its audience.

The Black Watch is a Scottish regiment in the British Army, steeped in traditions that date back to Robert the Bruce, and its small-town lads cling to each other like bawdy, brawling fraternity brothers. During their deployment to Iraq, though, the soldiers’ banter gives way to very real threats of death and dismemberment.

Set between two sets of risers like a miniature football stadium, Black Watch brings audiences so close to the action that the scent of explosives is always in the air, the smoke never completely clears, and we can watch the actors’ eyes scanning every corner for snipers.

Gregory Burke’s 2006 play is more economical than most tweets, and this bus-and-truck tour is also overseen by John Tiffany, the show’s original director at the National Theater of Scotland. It’s a brutal, insightful, and profanity-laced shove into the rabbit hole of Iraq, where the Black Watch had to keep “The Triangle of Death” from falling into the hands of insurgents.

Much of the play is told in flashback, with an occasional assist from multimedia clips showing dissent at home—and what happens when a smart bomb finds its target.

Innumerable war stories contain that moment when combat vets sneer at a soft-as-cheese reporter asking “What’s it really like?” to be in combat. Black Watch stages that exchange again, but also answers the question with a blistering intensity. This show is louder than most rock concerts, and the sound of screaming jets and ground-support fire is not for the faint of heart (or ear). When the soldiers duck for cover, you’ll have that impulse, too.

Likely this is the closest a person can come to combat without enlisting. These practiced performances and well-lived-in characters make vividly clear the cost of war: It frays the nerves, dulls compassion for all but your closest comrades, and makes you question the noble call to arms. Absent a clear mission or moral imperative in Iraq, these soldiers can be loyal to only one thing: the oath to keep themselves and their mates alive.

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