Vietnam…through my lens , written and performed by Vietnam veteran, Stu Richel is a personal narrative about his experience in the army, in Vietnam, and his profound and sincere admiration for soldiers. Richel was in Vietnam for two years from 1968-1970. He served as a combat correspondent with the 1st Infantry Division. It is obvious from Richel’s work that the experience deeply and permanently affected him, and he starts the show by asking himself, “How did Vietnam change me?”
The play opens and ends like a film. Richel’s photographs are projected on the back wall of the stage with the title and credits rolling over them. This effect was appropriate for a play about a war so many of us have strong visual images of in our mind’s eye. Richel has a calm and commanding voice and a fun, easy stage presence. He drifts adeptly in and out of various accents that punctuate the characters he speaks of. This is not a play about the horrors or atrocities of war but about the big hearts of the men who sacrifice themselves, as Richel says, “for our freedom.” Richel takes us from his first draft notice through his tour and up to his current life in New York City, where he still spends time with other veterans and the people who serve them (veterans) now, who Richel calls, “kindred spirits.”
Richel reads to us an essay he wrote for Overseas Weekly, a newspaper published from 1950-1975 for American military. This writing is the best in the piece and brings Richel, along with the audience, to tears. In it he speaks of his respect and affection for the infantry, who he sees as the heart and soul – the grassroots of the military. The descriptions of these soldiers, their lives and service is poignant and earnest and I could not help but think that much of it could also be applied to the working class of America – “The clouds around him are not silver-lined. They are laden with rain, makers of mud.”
Richel concludes his tale by telling us that he believes the sacrifices military people make, the duty they fulfill and the camaraderie they share is an experience that matures and strengthens. He believes that America should have a mandatory National Service year for all of us immediately after high school so that all generations can learn the lessons he and his “kindred spirits” learned in the military.
This might be a good idea and one I think President Obama has spoken of; I know President Kennedy had.
When speaking of the service and sacrifice of soldiers it is hard not to feel admiration and gratitude for them and their work. But there is a political element missing in this idea. Richel speaks of men fighting and sacrificing for “our freedom”. I still don’t see how America’s presence in Vietnam had anything to do with defending our freedom, but this did not prevent me from enjoying this piece very much. It is real, honest, moving and a particularly American work. So how did Vietnam change Stu Richel? How did it change America?
Written and performed by Stu Richel, directed by Linda S. Nelson, Marisa Merrigan scenic designer, Elaine Wong lighting designer, Michael Lee Stever photo montages/video design, Samantha Newby costume consultant, Philip Emeott graphic designer, Christopher A. McCarthy and Christopher T. Evans website design/development, Terence McCarthy marketing consultant, Amy Henault stage manager, Melissa E. Carroll assistant stage manager.
Dorothy Strelsin Theatre 312 West 36th Street, through November 23rd – Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Running time 80 mins. Tickets are $18 general admission ($15 seniors and students) available at the box office or at TheaterMania 866-811-4111.