The Trial of Jane Fonda
Acute Theatre Limited and Dann Moss in association with Park Theatre
Many American soldiers fighting in Vietnam of 1972 were shocked that the high profile actor Jane Fonda was not only visiting the Vietnamese they were fighting but was actually pictured sitting at one of their anti-aircraft guns.
It led in 1988 to protests by some veterans against plans to make a film with Jane Fonda in Waterbury America. In response, the actor offered to meet with the vets. Terry Jastrow imagines what might have taken place at that meeting in his thoughtful, well-researched play The Trial of Jane Fonda.
The visually striking set by Sean Cavanagh consists of stage and back wall as a huge American flag with a giant map of Vietnam cut out of it. Film footage to illustrate aspects of the story would at various points in the evening be projected onto the Vietnam section.
The show opens with images of the war including the execution of a bound Vietnamese prisoner by an American ally.
The Reverend John Clarke (Martin Fisher) enters the stage, with a flask of alcohol and, as he sets out chairs, another five veterans arrive. Their tension and anger is only slightly relieved by humorous banter. Jane Fonda unexpectedly walks in as they are singing "We aint fond of Fonda".
Agreeing to give her account of what led to the Hanoi pictures, she describes growing up fiercely patriotic but being drawn into the anti-war protests by the sheer horror of the deaths in Vietnam and the killing of students at Kent State University by National Guardsmen.
It was reports of US plans to bomb dykes in Vietnam, potentially killing 200,000 people, that prompted her to visit Hanoi.
However, Reggie Wells (Ako Mitchell), a former basketball player who lost his leg in the war, argues that others such as Martin Luther King and Mohammed Ali protested the war without siding with the enemy.
The play gives a very believable sense of the arguments the war generated. Although the characters are sketchily drawn, we can see how they differ from each other and care what happens to them
A fine cast of actors give sensitive performances as men troubled not only by Fonda’s behaviour but also their own memories of Vietnam and the way they were treated when they returned.
Anne Archer is a measured, reflective Jane Fonda trying to explain what happened and conceding that perhaps she had been set up for the propagandistic picture at the anti-aircraft gun. However, she doesn’t quite catch the passionate, persuasive pacing of the way the actual Jane Fonda would engage in arguments and this makes her character seem more cold and aloof than the former soldiers she is talking to.
There is no easy agreement or reconciliation to come from this meeting, but simply talking helps to take some of the steam out of the men’s rage which was always about more than just Jane Fonda.
Late in the play, one of the veterans admits that, "what she did was hard to swallow but the truth is she helped to end a bad war."
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna