Having seen and been blown away by “Tracers,” the powerful play by John DiFusco about Vietnam, I couldn’t wait to experience DiFusco’s follow up, “The Long Way Home: Reflections on the ‘Tracers’ Journey.”
Accompanied by singer/percussionist Al. Keith, DiFusco tells the story of his experiences in the war, his disorienting return home, and his meeting with other veterans who were feeling as displaced as he.
“We were shadow warriors, always in two places at one time,” he says. “We came back, after Nam, inside ourselves.”
He talks of hanging out with his buddy, Big Edgar, and their pledge to keep in touch after they returned home. “Of course we never did,” he says.
He tells of a sexual encounter with an especially kind Vietnamese girl whom he spent one night with and never saw again, but whom he still remembers with affection.
And he reminisces about meeting Lupe, his “Aztec princess” to whom he has been married for 43 years.
Having received the United States Air Force Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service in Vietnam, he returned home to begin his professional acting career with L.A.’s Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. Over time he has won a New York Drama Desk Award, as well as awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, NAACP Theatre, Drama-Logue, and others.
But his experiences in “the Nam” continued to color his life, and eventually he felt the need to do something about it. Placing a small ad looking for actors who were Vietnam vets, he was amazed by the response he got, and so he began a long series of auditions.
Projecting their photographs on the back wall of the United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance (USVAA) stage at the AMVETS Post II Building in Culver City, he introduced each selected participant to the audience, reciting tidbits of information about each of their personalities and quirks. Then together, he and the seven men he had chosen fashioned the play “Tracers” from all their combined experiences in the war.
“And just like that, a tribe was born,” DiFusco says.
The growth of the play through the workshop process came to fruition in 1980 and “we had our premiere at the Odyssey,” he continues, “but what I thought would be a six-week run at the Odyssey turned out to be a journey of a few decades.”
The play became part of the Vietnam Veterans Movement and went to New York where it was premiered at The Public Theater and was published as one of “The Ten Best of 1985/86.” From there DiFusco toured with it internationally and in 2011 he performed a staged reading of “The Long Way Home: Reflections on the ‘Tracers’ Journey” at the Rogue Machine, where he was a founding member.
John Perrin Flynn, who directs and co-produces “The Long Way Home,” is also a member of Rogue Machine and a long-time friend and collaborator of DiFusco’s.
John Densmore, drummer of The Doors and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is another producer, along with Keith Jeffreys, who founded the USVAA in 2004 and is its executive director. The organization’s mission is to find funding and support for veterans with individual projects in theater, film, television, the visual arts and crafts, and also to be an advocate for veterans’ concerns.
In 2012 the Los Angeles City Council presented Jeffreys and the USVAA artists with a resolution recognizing Nov. 1 as Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day.
“We are not heroes, we are just survivors,” DiFusco sums up. “We are on the periphery of obscurity, but all we dreamed of was coming home.” And telling their story.
“‘Tracers’ is more than a play,” he says. “It’s a teach-in.”
“Tracers” and “The Long Way Home” are co-productions of the United USVAA and the Rogue Machine Theatre.
“Tracers” will be presented at the USVAA Theater in the AMVETS Post II Building, 10858 Culver Blvd., Culver City, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. through Nov. 9.
“The Long Way Home,” which uses poetry, projections, story telling and live music to tell the story of the creation and journey of “Tracers” will be presented at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays from through Nov. 7. For tickets, call (855) 585-5185 or go to www.roguemachinetheatre.com
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.