BWW Reviews: TRACERS All-Veteran Cast Pays Tribute to Those who Missed the Freedom Bird Home
The United States Veterans' Artists Alliance (USVAA) in association with Rogue Machine is presenting two historic plays in rep, each with a cast of armed forces veterans, TRACERS and THE LONG WAY HOME: Reflections on the Tracers Journey. Both productions take place at the USVAA Theater in the AMVETS Post II Building, 10858 Culver Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230.
Conceived in 1980 by John DiFusco, TRACERS was written by DiFusco and a group of Vietnam vets as a workshop presented at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles. Spawned from their experiences with the Vietnam War, the play is dedicated to the 59,000+ who missed the freedom bird and never returned home. It went on to great success in New York, toured nationally and internationally throughout the 1980's, and continues to be produced around the country losing none of its original punch.
The current production of TRACERS features a stellar cast of young actors, all of whom have served in the United States military, a first since the original production. Their personal insights fuel the action as well as the rampant emotions that haunt them through the rigors of boot camp, the horrors of combat, the craziness of war, and the PTSD challenges of coming home including dealing with the effects of Agent Orange and living life in a wheelchair.
Featured in the TRACERS cast are James Bane (Scooter), Dan Bridges (Baby San), Christopher DeVinny (The Professor), Terrence Edwards (Drill Sgt. Williams), Jonathan "Doc" Farrow (Little John), Juliez Frazier (Habu), Jaimyon Parker (Doc), and Trevor Scott (Dinky Dau). While none served during the Vietnam War, their personal insight into what it takes to serve in the military made the production all the more real and gut wrenching since the play is a group piece, a series of events intertwined with great music that frames both the war and anti-war demonstrations going on during the late 60's, along with movement, multimedia photo displays, and military ritual. Having a cast of all veterans enhanced the collaborative nature of the work as these men know and are not just pretending to understand their precarious balance on The Edge of insanity during combat.
The scenes depicting the soldiers' drug use and drinking to deal with the stress of combat demonstrate the need to escape reality was more important than worrying about the after-effects, since each man knew he might be dead tomorrow anyway. I suppose the same can be said for why there were so many Amerasian children left behind after the war, the same devil-may-care attitude about women and venereal disease.
There are touching scenes as well, especially one between The Professor (Christopher DeVinny) and Doc (Jaimyon Parker), the two most educated men in their squad. Without computers or cell phones, their free time is spent reading books. When they discover both are great fans of Pirandello, they carry on a great intellectual discussion during an after-rat bite rabies treatment. Doc even produces a joint after realizing he cannot offer his patient a beer due to the treatment - a little slice of humanity amid the gunfire.
While there is not much gunfire in the show, there is one scene in which the sheer loudness of rifle fire battle materializes to such an extent that many audience members were seen covering their ears. It was a rude awakening for this writer, realizing that in reality the noise and fear would be hundreds times worse than what I was witnessing.. And yet these brave men dealt with it every day and the lucky ones came home to scorn for having served and little recognition of their service until years later. Kudos to John DiFusco and the group of original writers for creating such a moving tribute to the men who never came home as well as to the men who served our country during a time of great social upheaval at home.
THE LONG WAY HOME features a multimedia presentation with John DiFusco sharing stories of how his play TRACERS came into being and how later history, such as the Vietnam Wall, have been interwoven into the play. Along with DiFusco, musician Al. Keith adds insightful musical interludes as well as a myriad of characters that populate DiFusco's stories. The two men create a symbiotic presence onstage, as much a team as the soldiers in TRACERS.