Writer-director Paul Zimet’s riveting experimental music-theater piece, Party Time, follows two soldiers in a desert war as they drive their tank toward a battle zone or “party.” On their 200-mile journey, Sal (Joe Roseto), a Brooklyn-born Italian, and Frankie (Will Badgett), an African American from Oklahoma, swap stories of home, bicker about trivialities, and struggle to accept their mortality as they approach combat. First performed by the downtown ensemble the Talking Band in 1996, the work still feels fresh and relevant, perfectly capturing the mood of the current Iraq war. An especially poignant moment comes when Sal reads a letter from his aunt who describes her luxurious brand-new condo and Jacuzzi. “She doesn’t have a clue,” says Sal about her blissful ignorance.
On a spare set, a rolling scaffold with headlights serves as the men’s vehicle. A screen with video projections (by Kit Fitzgerald) cleverly portrays the wartime scenery, contrasting shots of the beautiful desert landscape with rolling tanks, fiery explosions, and rotting corpses. Obie-winning composer Peter Gordon’s toe-tapping musical score includes thumping hip-hop beats, jazz melodies, and electronica to complement Zimet’s smart, high-energy direction. Unintentionally adding to the realism, the sounds of explosions are so loud that the theater’s seats vibrate and shake the audience. Actors Roseto and Badgett capably convey the psychological strain of combat in a foreign country with wonderful singing to boot. Running under an hour, Party Time is a swift, gripping reminder of the real tragedy playing out overseas—and well worth seeing.