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Pittsburgh Playwrights investigates Corps Values.

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You can't get more "here's what's happening now" than Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company's local premiere of Brendon Bates' Iraq-themed drama/thriller Corps Values.

On a homestead in Dawson County, we meet up with Wade Taylor, a Vietnam veteran and father of Casey Taylor, currently a Marine fighting in Iraq but home on leave to attend his mother's funeral.

But there's a problem: Casey hasn't reported back to Camp Lejeune after the service and, in fact, the three military officers sent to find him have gone missing as well. So here comes officer Kyle Adamson to unravel the whole thing. He's here in part because he and Wade served in Vietnam together. In fact, Kyle owes his life to Wade.

Bates' play is about the myth of heroism. On the surface, all the major characters are decorated servicemen of great bravery. But Bates, using the thriller genre as his cover, strips away the jingoistic trappings to prove, vividly, that heroes are still human, and that there's a corrosive cost to medal-winning wartime acts. Corps Values isn't so much an anti-war play as it is an anti-"the lies we tell about"-war play.

Bates uses a back-and-forth-in-time structure well: Though the toggling between the past and present is off-putting, if necessary, the writing is taut and the characters rooted in reality.

The director, John Gresh, smartly exploits Bates' theatrical fireworks but gives the same focus to the smaller, more intense, moments of the characters, played strongly by Wali Jamal, Joshua Elijah Reese, Marcus Muzopappa and Joseph Martinez.

You wouldn't hear me complain if Gresh and company kicked up the pace several notches but, on the whole, Bates' intriguing play receives a production worthy of it.

Corps Values continues through Dec. 17. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, 542 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-394-3353.

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