There is War in Vietnam Once Again

Michael Hogan

The war in Vietnam is escalating. Young American men are dying by the thousands. The world in David Rabe’s classic play “Streamers” is one of turmoil and chaos. Four young men, all from their own different worlds, wait together to be shipped off to fight in the jungles.

It was a time of uncertainty faced by hundreds of thousands of American soldiers in the 1960s and 70s, a time of both fear and reflection. Director Scott Ellis works the same magic that has earned him nine Tony and Desk Drama Award nominations by bringing the long dormant masterpiece of American theater back to life.

There is Billy, the college graduate from Wisconsin with a bit of a conservative bent; Richie, the well-to-do pretty boy from Manhattan; Roger, a working class African-American; and Carlyle, the loose cannon fresh out of boot camp. All of these men are scared and none of them know what to expect, but they all know where they are headed. They are all headed into the thick of a land filled with combative fire and brimstone.

As they wait anxiously to be sent off to fight, they learn more about the lives each other has left behind. Divisions of class, race and sexuality all become increasingly evident, and tensions rise with the mounting death toll overseas. A shockingly brutal act of violence is the culmination of the action, echoing the barbarism of the war they are waiting to help fight.

Rabe’s script dances flawlessly between the comic and the tragic. The wry comedy of life in the Army barracks is intermixed with horror stories of the war in Asia. The story forces the audience through the gamut of emotions, from joy to sadness and back again.

A thrilling exploration of young minds on the brink of pandemonium, the show is full of award-worthy performances. The cast of 11 men all shine in roles it seems they were made for. Hale Appleman as Richie, and Ato Essandoh as Carlyle, are highlights in the stellar cast that includes Brad Fleischer as Billy and J.D. Williams as Roger.

The morbidly tragic comedy of John Sharian and Larry Clarke, as Sergeants Rooney and Cokes, respectively, is the epitome of these minds that seem to hang in the balance, imaginations that have been tortured by visions of a hellish war.

When the play debuted in 1976 The New York Times remarked that it was “absolutely a knockout!” If they were to review this version, they would surely say the same thing.

“Streamers” is playing at the Boston University Theater from November 9 through December 9. For tickets or more information go to the Huntington Theatre Company’s website at: