Andy Jordan Productions in association with Park Theatre
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America’s brutal war against Vietnam killed, according to many estimates, over a million people. It left many more people deeply traumatised.
Richard Vergette’s sensitive seventy-minute monologue as the troubled American ex-marine Jimmy Vandenburg who fought in Vietnam takes us through much of his life story.
Set in the auto repair shop Jimmy runs in the Michigan city of Monroe, he describes being raised by his grandmother after his parents were killed in a car crash. He recalls the picture of his dad in uniform on the wall of his childhood home. Wanting, in his words, “to be somebody,” he enlisted as a marine, is shipped out to Vietnam and fights in a war he barely understands.
He is sent to the DMZ (demilitarised zone) or, as he and others call it, the “dead marine zone”, witnesses the death of other soldiers and, despite describing the Vietcong as good fighters, tells us he “hated them and wanted to kill as many as possible.”
He certainly commits his share of violence, being observed by a journalist threatening to blow the head of a female villager. One restraining influence is Alvarado, a fellow soldier and friend who is a medic and acts as a conscience that Jimmy respects.
Returning to a changed America, he found people marching against the war and his gran telling him that it was “dishonourable”. He became angry at the way veterans of the war were treated. His former girlfriend Bernice, who had heard nothing from him during his posting, was with someone else.
As the years passed, the Ford factory closes with the loss of some twelve hundred jobs. The city becomes a place of boarded-up buildings and lost hope. He puts on a cap that bears the Trump slogan of “Make America Great Again”.
Then someone he describes as a dead man walks into his shop prompting an emotional trip to the Vietnam War memorial in Washington.
Richard Vergette gives a gentle, confident, believable performance as Jimmy, reminding us how long-lasting and confusing are the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Although it shows a politically liberal compassion for the many former veterans and working people feeling left out in modern America, the play does lack dramatic tension and any real reasons for disagreeing with America’s criminal war. It is entertaining but far too cosy a play that needs more bite.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna