June 10, 2015

A pair of American soldiers manning a remote desert outpost find themselves unraveling under the pressure of heat, hunger, boredom and anxiety in “Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait,” a new play written and directed by Daniel Talbott at the Gym at Judson. As grim as it is cryptic — it is never clear where exactly we are, or even if one of the titular countries is involved — the play gains some force from the intense performances of its cast, led by a particularly captivating Seth Numrich as the jumpier of the soldiers. We begin with a monologue delivered in near darkness, in Serbian (why leave Serbia out of the title?), by Jelena Stupljanin. It is obvious from this unnamed character’s ravaged appearance and the fierce anguish in her eyes that she has been the victim of terrible violence. After pouring forth her misery in Serbian, she adds a few sentences in English, describing how she has been held prisoner and serially raped by soldiers. A blackout follows — the play is marked by many, accompanied by ominous, thundering music — and then the lights rise on a concrete bunker in a desert, nearly buried by piles of sand. (The set design, by Raul Abrego, is terrific, with the sand lapping at the audience’s feet.) This outpost is manned by Smith (Mr. Numrich, star of the Broadway revival of “Golden Boy”) and Leadem (Brian Miskell, seen recently in “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now”). Smith, played with antsy, wild-eyed ferocity by Mr. Numrich, fills the menacing void with words, while Leadem, portrayed in a lower key but with a tense, brooding dread by Mr. Miskell, mostly reacts only when prompted.