‘Eyes’ Wide Open


Don't ask, don't tell — don't regret.

That is what Jeff Key does in "The Eyes of Babylon," a visionary one-man show of a thousand emotions in which the former Marine lance sergeant ultimately questions the U.S. government's war policy in Iraq.

Shipped stateside to recover from a hernia acquired during duty earlier this millennium, he found a hole in the military's reasoning for being "over there," coming out against the war even as he came out of the closet sexually.

He asked, he told — he wrote a play about it all.

The eye-opening one-man show opens March 17 at the Bristol Riverside Theatre.

Based on journals he kept during time in Iraq, "Eyes" is an unblinking broadside at a war where weapons of mass destruction as an argument for Iraqi involvement shot itself in the foot. Key keys in on his time as weakened warrior and post-recovery, taking no hostages in the process.

One captive fan turned out to be a worthy warrior himself. A veteran of Israel's Lebanon war in 1982, Israeli and now New York-based director Yuval Hadadi had a meeting with the former Marine that provided ample ammunition for a longtime professional relationship.

Key opened up to his newfound friend about his closeted days, as well as his once hermetically sealed emotions about fighting a war with words.

His meeting and reading the journal to Hadadi enabled the Israeli to read between the lines and envision a different setting for his newfound friend's hurt words. Hadadi in now directing the play.

He understood it all, avers Hadadi, without relating to it.

"Jeff's story is incredible, beautiful and poetic," he says of Key's written experience of trying to find rhyme and reasons for what he saw as government duplicity, "but I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with my own experience" as an Israeli militia man.

Indeed, "Eyes" is an eyeful and earful because first-time playwright Key "has the acute ability to observe; his experiences are all-encompassing as are his observations — to detail, about people — about life in general."

One specific part of that life is Key's coming out, although his play doesn't build its case for drama solely based on that disclosure.

Clearly, Key's unlocking the closet would not be such a major story if this all happened in Israel, claims the director, who moved to New York in 1993.

'War Leads to Nowhere'

Keep it gay? "It's a non-issue in the Israeli military," where homing in on homosexuality as reason to discharge a military man or woman is unthinkable.

It is an environment unworthy of battle, in which "gay partners receive the same benefits" as spouses, says Hadadi.

Hadadi knows firsthand; he came out himself.

"I came late to it," he says of his revelation. "But any issues I had with it were my own," since no one compelled him to be closeted.

What Hadadi felt compelled to do was listen intently to Key phrases and words. "When we first met, in Los Angeles, Jeff seemed ready to burst; talking about his experiences was like releasing baggage."

The play ups the ante: "The message is anti-war, but it's also a social message," reasons Hadadi. "War leads to nowhere."

What is it good for? Absolutely something in this case: The Bristol date precedes an already scheduled off-Broadway run.

As an outsider, Key comes equipped to offer insights into the Iraq that rocked his world. So does Hadadi: Being "an Israeli directing a play about an American military experience" works to his advantage. "Being an outsider helps."

Inside his own war memorabilia, Hadadi has second thoughts himself about what it all meant to be in Lebanon. It is different from the Iraq situation; "our wars are not wars of choice," but of necessity, he claims.

Yet … "some of the decisions made to extend the Lebanon conflict, looking back, were not" coming from a "pure place," he adds.

Now serving as artistic adviser on a Broadway-bound musical "In a Word … WOW!" — based on South Philly-born designer Kenneth Bonavitacola's fashionable life — Hadadi concedes that he is wowed himself by Key's unpadlocked words of wisdom.

It has, he says of "The Eyes of Babylon," opened his own eyes a bit more to what he sees as the bankrupt wages of war and the moral money pit they wind up becoming.


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