Powerful! Mesmerizing! Brilliant!
It’s “Tracers,” the emotionally charged ensemble piece about the Vietnam war. Written by playwright John DiFusco in 1980 and performed at Los Angeles’ Odyssey Theatre that same year, it has been performed in Chicago, New York, and on tour nationally and internationally ever since. And, not surprisingly, it is as relevant now as it was then, dealing as it does with the first of America’s many controversial wars.
DiFusco is quick to acknowledge the creative contributions of the eight Vietnam veterans who made up the “original group” at the Odyssey. The play appears to have provided a much-needed catharsis, both for the audience as well as the players.
In the current revival, the actors, who are trained theater professionals, are all veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Too young to have served in Vietnam, they served mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Together they reenact the story of the terrifying “adventure” of the Vietnam war, from boot camp, where they were referred to as “maggots” and bullied non-stop by their drill sergeant. (“One in 100 soldiers is a warrior,” he tells them, “and 80 percent are targets.”) We follow them to the hot, sniper-filled jungles of Vietnam and watch the process as each reveals himself as a very real, unique personality.
There is Scooter (James Bane), Dinky Dau (Trevor Scott), The Professor (Chris DeVinny), Little John (Jonathan Farrow), Habu (Juliez Frazier), and the “runt” of the litter, Baby San (Dan Bridges). The bullying Sgt. Williams is Terrence Edwards and the medic, Doc, is Jaimyon Parker. It is part of the fascination of the play to watch this thoroughly disparate group meld together as a band of brothers.
Together they face the horrors of war, the boredom of non-activity, and the highs to be had from a variety of drugs. Together, they face their last ambush.
Switching from the war to a period just after the war and then to the 1980s makes it a little difficult to keep track of the chronology of the men’s lives, but this is a cavil in what is otherwise a nearly perfect production. The men are flawlessly directed by playwright DiFusco, who also created the evocative sound design (with Corwin Evans) and provided instruction in Tai Chi.
“Tracers,” which is “dedicated to the 59,000 who missed the Freedom Bird,” is a co-production of the United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance (USVAA) and the Rogue Machine Theatre.
A companion piece, “The Long Way Home,” which deals with DiFusco’s reflections on the “Tracers” journey, runs in repertory with “Tracers” and was written and is performed by DiFusco and directed by John Perrin Flynn, the Rogue Machine’s founding artistic director.
“Tracers,” a term that refers to the preliminary bullets that emit a red streak to aid a soldier in aiming his weapon in the dark, 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. (with an additional show with talk-back at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13) through Nov. 9.
“The Long Way Home,” using 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 from Oct. 10 through Nov. 7, and 3 p.m. on Sundays, with a talk-back with John DiFusco and percussionist and vocalist Al Keith on Sunday, Oct. 20. For tickets, call (855) 585-5185 or go to www.roguemachinetheatre.com
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.