Saturday, September 16, 2017

Looking for His Theater: Back from Vietnam

It was a warm night--even for New York--and I was in a showcase play (where you try to get agents to see your work). The play was called Dark Ladies, Bright Angels and was a collection of Shakespeare pieces. The opening involved the actors going onstage and talking with each other, to get into character.

There was only one person in the audience when I emerged, and he didn't seem at all to be there for Shakespeare. He was quiet, thoughtful, and seemed very serious, even sad. After a moment or two watching the actors, he said he was looking for a theater for Vietnam vets.

Some of the actors ignored him, and then someone told him this was a Shakespeare play. That was the end of our communication with him, and we began trying to get into character--chattering, laughing and saying a few of our lines. I have always regretted it, though.

Because I really wish we had at least talked to him, character or no. He seemed to need to be there -- in a theater with his peers, others vets, people who had experienced what he had. As it happened, he waited for a little while and then left.

This weekend, Ken Burns' long-awaited documentary on the Viet Nam war is beginning to air on PBS. This summer, my husband and I have been watching China Beach, for no particular reason except that we'd always wanted to see it and never have.

I do remember the era and the protest marches, and then later, the vets coming home, and generally not being treated very well. The night this particular vet walked into the theater where I was working seems part and parcel of that, somehow, though we were not intentionally being rude or mean.

The bright spot in all of this is that I did see him again at the theater, because he found the group of vets he was looking for. I said hello, but not much more than that, because I had to get to my performances. And to be fair, he was busy with his group too.

And yet, and yet.

So much that happens in wars changes the people who experience them. And I believe artists have a real obligation to learn from and listen very carefully to the people who lived through wars and traumas. I wish that night, we had taken the time to listen to this man. Or even ask about the theater company he mentioned and go to one of the shows.

We could have learned so much.


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Soldier photo: Manhhai