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The Eyes of Babylon

Openly gay former Marine Jeff Key shares his Iraq War experiences in this provocative, funny, and inspiring solo show.

By New York City
Jeff Key in The Eyes of Babylon
(Courtesy of The Mehadi Foundation)
Jeff Key in The Eyes of Babylon
(Courtesy of The Mehadi Foundation)
An openly gay former Marine who served overseas at the beginning of the Iraq War, Jeff Key gives a moving account of his experiences in the provocative, funny, and inspiring solo show, The Eyes of Babylon, being presented at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Americas Off Broadway Festival.

The bulk of the performance chronicles Key's time in Iraq and is largely based upon the journals that he kept while there. A brawny man who speaks with a pronounced Southern accent, Key unexpectedly proves to have a poet's soul as he waxes lyrical on a wide range of subjects, from the behavior of insects, to his encounters with the locals, to masturbating underneath the desert sky.

Key's use of language is richly detailed and includes humorous observations, as well as more serious matter. While his selection of entries usually portrays him in a flattering light, he also includes a chilling passage in which he gives full vent to his anger and his feelings of blood lust. Such instances add complexity to the show's narrative, as well as the writer/performer's portrayal of himself.

Among Key's most engaging stories are his reading of a letter he wrote to the family of a fallen comrade; an erotically charged exchange he has with an Iraqi man involving the application of lip balm; and a discussion with a fellow soldier about the loves of their lives. Describing the latter encounter, Key states, "The conversation doesn't stop so we can talk about homosexuality or societal attitudes towards it or gays in the military […] we're just two Marines in a hole in the middle of the night passing the time by sharing our hearts' histories."

Key's homosexuality is not the focus of his Iraq War journals, but it is a background detail that informs a lot of what he says, and the ways in which he behaves. It becomes a bigger factor after he leaves active duty, and is the express reason that he gives for resigning from the military in an elegantly worded letter that criticizes the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

What is strangely lacking within the show is an account of Key's transition from military man to peace activist. It's true that he does discuss his depression, which is partially triggered by new information about the reasons for the American invasion of Iraq. The performance also includes a video clip showing Key being interviewed by CNN in which the former soldier openly criticizes the way the media depicts the war. But there still seems to be a missing narrative piece to properly bring the audience along on Key's journey of self-discovery.

What he does manage to share, however, is often quite powerful. Key is unabashedly patriotic, even when he is critical of government or military policies. He clearly gets across his love for his country, his desire to protect it, and his hope that he can live up to the ideals that drove him to become a Marine in the first place.


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