Freddie Bennett, left, and Cody Robinson star in “Occupied Territories.” (C. Stanley Photography/C. Stanley Photography)

In one of the most memorable moments in “Occupied Territories,” a flawed but often arresting new theater piece, suburban America drifts into the Vietnamese jungle. The camouflage-clad bodies of GIs are lying in a space we understand to be the site of a skirmish in the Vietnam War. We can dimly hear whining insects and the rustle of undergrowth. Suddenly, a woman we know to be living in the suburbs decades later (according to the play’s two-ply storyline) steps out among the GIs. She looks at the troops, unnerved. For a moment, two eras — and two countries — overlap.

This is just one of many striking moments in the 70-minute work, which Theater Alliance has produced in partnership with Kicking Pig Productions, a movement/theater company. Conceived and directed by Mollye Maxner, who wrote the script with Nancy Bannon, with input from the ensemble, “Occupied Territories” suffers from some narrative weakness: The suburban-U.S. storyline is stunted and announces its meaning too baldly. But the Vietnam scenes are more plausible and moving, and the production adds emotional weight to the Asia-set story with bold, artful touches of movement, lighting and sound.

Adding to the unusual quality of the experience, the Anacostia Playhouse space has been configured to accommodate a mere 38 theatergoers. With the actors sometimes positioned quite close to the seating, it can feel as if you’re right in the middle of the action.

That’s particularly the case when the play is centered on Collins (Cody Robinson), a callow, mild-mannered lad who has recently joined a squad of more hardened troops in Vietnam. Stranded in the middle of the jungle after a battle, and running out of food and water, the guys pass the time by ribbing each other — especially Collins. Several of the soldiers are already scarred by the horror of war. One man (Nathan Jan Yaffe) never speaks. Another (Stephen Horst) has a psychological meltdown that leads him to shockingly mishandle the dead body of a Vietnamese guerilla.

The war sequences unfurl on the bare edges of the stage area, near the audience. Upstage, a more naturalistic fragment of set depicts an unkempt basement. This room is one of the headaches confronting Jude (Nancy Bannon), the troubled adult daughter of a recently deceased Vietnam vet. Self-absorbed and bitter, Jude squabbles with her sister Helena (Adrienne Nelson) as the two cope with the clutter and emotional burdens bequeathed by their father. At one point, to Helena’s horror, Jude takes up a cassette that is a piece of family history and methodically rips out its innards, until her hands are full of looping tape.

This suburban storyline is too blunt in spelling out the play’s central message — that the trauma of war can continue long past the end of hostilities, inflicting pain even on people who didn’t experience the fighting directly. The story also reaches resolution with an abruptness that is quite implausible, although Bannon does her best to flesh out Jude’s aging-problem-child character.

The Vietnam scenes are far more compelling, partly because the writing is less strained and partly because the actors create a persuasive, tense and swaggering give-and-take, with movement to match. In one resonant sequence, two soldiers (Yaffe and Thomas Rowell) engage in a bout of silent roughhousing that morphs into a macho dance, complete with lifts that verge on wrestling moves. (Kelly Maxner and Mollye Maxner choreographed the show; Elliott Bales was the military adviser.)

Lighting designer Kyle Grant steeps some of the military scenes in deep shadows that suggest the fear and disorientation (not to mention actual darkness) that the soldiers are likely experiencing. And sound designer Matthew M. Nielson evocatively conjures the jungle soundscape, including circling helicopters, a downpour and a monkey moving through the undergrowth. At one point, near the start of the show, we hear the soldiers but can’t see them — jogging and chanting, they seem to surround us.

The intimate, almost immersive nature of the staging drives home the play’s central theme: Collins, his Army mates and even Jude are trapped inside the machinery and consequences of war. The “occupied territories” of the title are measured not in square miles but in years and lives.

Wren is a freelance writer.

Occupied Territories

Written by Nancy Bannon and Mollye Maxner. Conceived and directed by Mollye Maxner. Assistant director/dramaturg, John Michael MacDonald; scenic design, Andrew Cohen; costumes, Kelsey Hunt; original music, Matthew M. Nielson. With Elliott Bales, Freddie Bennett, Desmond Bing, Jake MacDevitt and Thony Mena. About 70 minutes. Tickets: $20-$35. Through July 5 at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl. SE. Call 202-241-2539 or visit