Capturing War's Reality

Theater Review

Powerful 'Tracers' Delivers Fine Cast In Scenes Packed With Action

December 06, 2009|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson , Special to The Baltimore Sun

Reflecting the experiences of Vietnam War veterans, "Tracers" was a startling choice to cap Standing O's diverse second season. A sharp departure from the entertaining fare that preceded it, "Tracers" compelled the audience to share some disquieting, thought-provoking moments.

Written by eight Vietnam veterans who formed the original cast at Los Angeles' Odyssey Theatre in 1980, "Tracers" is a collage of interrelated scenes that follows six men from basic training through combat and finally to the realization that their lives will be forever affected by the horrors they have witnessed.

Artistic director Ron Giddings acknowledges having "a mild personal obsession with the Vietnam conflict," and since he discovered the show five years ago has wanted to be part of a performance that "comes closer than any other play in bringing fear to life. So raw and real in language, form, daily life boredom, action, uncertainty, tragedy, humor and celebration - a unique work of art."

Director Edd Miller, who is an Air Force veteran, said "the seven young men who form the cast weren't born when the Vietnam conflict ended. They worked hard to create a truth in each character."

Miller's sensitive direction retained the power in quiet, affecting scenes with one or two actors that revealed truth to the audience. He created believable battle scenes packed with action and wrenching scenes where the servicemen search for body parts of their dead compatriots for shipment home.

The uniformly fine cast consisted of veteran actors Ben Carr, Ron Giddings and Thurston Cobb and Standing O newcomers Kyle Bray, Joey Conway, Samuel Gillam and Ron Lincoln. Among the most powerful scenes was one in which a sadistic drill instructor played by Cobb forces his six new recruits, whom he addresses as "maggots" in basis training, to do dozens of continuous push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks on stage for about 15 minutes - a grueling test of stamina for the six actors. Afterward, Cobb alone as the realist drill sergeant confides that 80 percent of his "maggots" will become targets and he has only 18 weeks to turn these teenagers into soldiers.

Conway as Dinky Dau delivers a moving reading of a Dear John letter he has received from his girlfriend, Cheryl. In the opening scene, which depicts the men as veterans, Conway is in a wheelchair, reflecting on his war experiences.

"Tracers" shows the horror of standing in rat-infested trenches, and the daily dehumanizing effects of war as soldiers cope by using drugs and alcohol and describe reality with an overuse of profanity.

At the after-performance audience talk-back Nov. 21, Miller said he "most wanted the audience to feel the reality of war. Soldiers are real people that we need to honor regardless of how we may feel about war."

Standing O's 2010 season

"The Musical of Musicals: The Musical": March 12-20

"52 Pick-Up": March 26-28

Comedy Improv Nights: Feb. 19-20

"Moonlight and Magnolias": May 14-22

"Outrage": Sept. 17-25

"After the Dance": Nov. 5-13

"1939 Radio Show": Dec. 4

"A Christmas Story": Dec. 10-12, 2010

For more information, go to standingoproductions.org

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