Richard Vergette in Leaving Vietnam, from Andy Jordan Productions, provides an insight into the lives of normal American soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war.
The play starts with his character Jimmy Vanderberg working in a Ford factory in Detroit. His life is straightforward and simple. But, as world politics heats up, he decides to fight in Vietnam to prove himself a man.
Whilst in Vietnam, he befriends a Mexican soldier, Alveress, who makes him question his racist beliefs about foreigners. Alveress saves his life, and holds him accountable for his behaviour. Upon his return to America, he finds that his ‘simple’ relationship with his wife is no longer so straightforward. But, more than that, he clearly struggles with PTSD, and lives in an environment where he feels he cannot talk about the trauma he is grappling with. On top of this, as a soldier of a much-disputed war, rather than being treated as a hero he finds people, including his own family, questioning his choice to sign up and fight as a marine.
The play fast forwards to recent political history, as we see Vanderberg become a Trump supporter, arguing he wanted to ‘make America great again’ as it was during the time of the Vietnam War. These beliefs are then challenged as he takes a trip to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington with Alveress’ son.
The play highlights the dire effects society can have on men, who are encouraged to bottle their emotions up and not speak up about their trauma. Through the use of sharp prose, the play offers insight into the effects of PTSD on soldiers during battle but also upon their way home. It highlights the struggle of the many soldiers who, despite huge personal sacrifice, were not treated in the same heroic way as the soldiers from previous wars – despite the decision to go into war not being their fault, but the fault of politicians.
The link between the soldiers losing their purpose, their ‘army family’, and being pressured to stay silent about the horrors they saw, and their later support for Trump, was really interesting. The added angle of Vanderberg’s wife comparing the Trump era to the riots in the 70s was fascinating, although personally I think more could have been made of this part of the play.
Whilst the prose and the dialogue between the characters Vergette was depicting in his one man show was often poignant, there were moments when I felt it was too lengthy. For example, a long segment of the show was dedicated to the time in Vietnam, when more time could have been spent exploring the link to modern politics, and the link to Trump, as this provided a fascinating angle.
However, overall, the show flowed really well, despite the lengthy Vietnam segment, and successfully delved into an area of American politics and history with an angle that I thought was different, providing a much needed insight into one of the many reasons for Trump’s election win. It also highlighted the depth of the personal sacrifice soldiers from all around the world make for their country: whether the war is justifiable or not, their personal sacrifice remains unmatched.
A moving and interesting show. Well worth a watch at Surgeon’s Hall, Theatre 2 until 13th August.
Image courtesy of Jane Hobson, provided to The Student from the dress rehearsal.