The Column Online



by David Rabe.
Produced through special arrangements with Samuel French

L.I.P. Service

Directed by Seth Johnston
Set Design – David Hance
Sound Designer- Danica Bergeron
Lighting Designer – Scott Davis
Costume Designer – Jason Leyva
Props by Brooke Viegut

Kyle Lester – Billy
John P. Rutherford- Ritchie
David Kersh – Sergeant (Sgt) Rooney
Zach Leyva – Private First Class (PFC) Clark/ Martin
R. Andrew Aguilar – Military Police (M.P). Lieutenant
Kwame Lilly – Rodger
Henry Okigbo – Carlyle
Pat Watson – Sergeant (Sgt) Cokes
Joshua Hahlen – Private First Class (PFC) Hinson

Reviewed Performance: 8/15/2015

Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Although, Rabe has denied that the story was written as such, many commentators view the work as the last piece in a Vietnam War trilogy that also includes The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1970) and Sticks and Bones (1972). Written in the 1960’s, Streamers. It started out as a one-act play and was actually begun before Rabe started working on either Basic Training or Sticks and Bones, but it was not completed and staged until both works had been produced. The full-length version of the play was premiered at the Long Warf Theater in New Haven, where it opened on January 30, 1976.

Despite his claims to the contrary, Rabe has often been viewed as a critic of the political policy supporting the Vietnam Conflict. In other major works, including The Orphan (1973), In the Boom Boom Room, (1974, a revision of the earlier Boom Boom Room), Hurlyburly (1984), and A Question of Mercy (1998), Rabe deals with the deterioration of values both during that War and in its aftermath.

Streamers takes place in a large cadre room in one of the barracks on an unidentified U. S. Army base near Washington, D.C, during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. As the story unfolds, it soon becomes clear that many of the soldiers quartered in the barracks, some are awaiting orders that will most likely send them to Vietnam. The cadre room houses three soldiers: Rodger, a middle class African American, played by Kwame Lilly, Billy, a conservative from rural America, played by Kyle Lester, and Ritchie from upper class in Manhattan, who is struggling with his sexual orientation, played by John P. Rutherford. During the story, the audience learns that these three roommates all have the rank of Specialist and are therefore given better quarters than lower ranking enlisted. Carlyle, a street wise, temperamental African American Soldier, played by Henry Okigbo, forcefully, soon intrudes into the dynamics of the three roommates affecting what is already a complicated relationship between Rodger, Billy and Ritchie. The non-Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC) of the barracks is Sergeant (Sgt.) Rooney, played by David Kersh. Sgt. Rooney is an abusive alcoholic that served during the Korean War and is anxious to go back into battle. Accompanying Sgt. Rooney is his friend Sgt. Cokes. Cokes, played by Pat Watson, is also an alcoholic that served in the Korean War with Rooney. While Rooney is an abusive drunk, Cokes is more introspective and the audience learns that he is drinking to try to forget experiences in his life.

David Hance designed a set that looks like and has the feel of the drab and Spartan interior of a military barracks. The flats are painted a green that is not quite the olive drab green that was used by the army as the one color for everything. Nor, is it a soothing and calming color of green. Rather, it is a shade of green that definitely gives the audience member the feeling of being in a government institution environment. Lighting in the barracks room is furnished by three drop lights that have a utilitarian military style. Inside of the barracks room are three twin size bunks. Each bunk is covered by the standard military issue olive drab (O.D.) green wool blanket that is placed on the bed with corners of the blankets tucked with standard military precision. In the upper left stage area, between the bunks used by Billy and Ritchie respectively, are three lockers that are built into the wall. Each bunk also has the foot locker that is commonly portrayed with military bunks during that time period. As to be expected in temporary military quarters, there are no personal elements such as posters or personal pictures on any of the walls.

Sound Design by Danica Bergeron is one of the strengths of the show. Upon entering the performance area, the audience member will hear sound-bytes from political speeches, news casts and interviews from during the time period of the Vietnam Conflict. In addition to the political speeches, interviews and new stories and songs of the time period, Bergeron has included sound effects such as automatic weapons firing; sounds of airplanes and helicopters flying that give the audio impression of combat. Additionally, the sound of the traffic from outside of the venue is incorporated into the sound design of the show to enhance the feel of realism in the production.

Jason Leyva uses a costume design that is for the most part true to the time period of what would be worn and displayed by military personal. Leyva pays particular attention to the dog tags worn by each character. When the dog tags are visible, there are two dog tags on an appropriate chain worn around the neck. Each soldier wears standard issue uniforms. The pants are either tucked into the tops of the boots or held in place above the tops of the boots by stays. Boots are military issue, black, with the exception of the military jungle boots worn by Sgt. Cokes. Who, as the story explains, has authorization to wear thee boots as he had been formerly assigned to a jungle combat zone. When T-Shirts are visible, they are the military standard crew neck style and are tucked into the pants. Attention to detail is even given to the style and color of underwear worn by soldiers during that time. There are scenes in which the characters change clothes on stage and strip down to underwear. With a few exceptions, the costuming is time period and military appropriate. Two exceptions that I noted to this standard during the performance that I reviewed were in the following scenes are, In one scene Ritchie is changing clothes at his locker and strips down to reveal a thong instead of the expected military briefs or boxers. Also, during the scene in act one, in which Rooney and Cokes enter the barracks room for the first time in act one, Rooney is wearing a military jacket with the rank insignia of a Specialist. Audience members familiar with Army rank insignia will recognize that the rank if Specialist is below the rank of Sergeant. These two costume differences also emphasize military institutional sameness of the costuming in the production.

Scott Davis creates a lighting design that effectively mixes various color washes to accentuate the rising and falling of the tension and conflicts between the characters. Through most of the performance, the lighting appeared to come directly from the functioning overhead lights on stage as part of the stage design.

Property design by Brooke Viegut includes elements that could be found in any military barracks or minimally furnished dormitory room in the 1960’s. Some of the props that are highlighted in this production include a basketball used by Rodger and Billy, a men’s magazine complete with a centerfold of a nude woman, cigarettes that are actually smoked on stage by some of the characters, bottles with various types of alcohol, knives and stage blood that is used late in act two.

Directed Seth Johnston, recognized that the conflict in the story not overtly about the Vietnam Conflict as it was about the differences in cultures and values between the characters. Using this as a focus, Johnston skillfully directs the actors to fully embrace the stage space as well as the personalities, characteristics and perspectives of the character that the actor is portraying. Johnston embraces the words and intent of the author and creates a believable environment on stage that includes a roller coaster of emotional levels, physical use of the entire stage, real cigarette smoking on stage, vulgar language and violence that is contained in the script. The story is presented in a way that is raw, real, at times disturbing, but not overly offensive.

The opening scene includes Zach Leyva as PFC. Martin and John P. Rutherford as Richie. In this scene, Ritchie is consoling and trying to deal with a distraught Martin that has cut his wrist. The cuts are not deep enough to have blood spurting, yet are deep enough to be visible and show an apparent wound. Martin is loudly and emotionally telling Ritchie, and Roger and Billy, when they come into the room that he cut his wrist to get out of the army. Leyva plays the young Private First Class (PFC) Martin and is only in the opening scene. Leyva plays this role enthusiastically with much surface, frantic emotion as he shows the other characters his wound and claims that he is trying to get out of the army.

Kyle Lester as Billy is very natural on stage with his movements, gestures and verbal interactions with the other characters in the story. Billy, the character is conservative in nature, educated and struggles to accept the cultural and value differences that he encounters with the other characters. Lester, internalizes the conflicts that he experiences, then allows the audience to experience the thought process and eventual actions of the character in situations. Such as when Billy is in heated discussion with Ritchie regarding Ritchie’s indicated sexual preference. Lester is so connected to the character of Billy that, while sitting in the audience watching the argument, I believed that I was watching two actual people having this argument, instead of watching two actors merely present a dialogue. Throughout the story, Lester portrays Billy as a character that wants to be accepted and accepting.

Kwame Lilly plays Rodger, a middle class African American that has also experienced difficult events in his life prior to joining the Army. Lilly plays Rodger with a calm and collected demeanor, rarely going to either end of the emotional spectrum. Lilly give Rodger a stoic demeanor in the character that accepts situations as they happen and not become too emotionally involved or vulnerable. One situation that illustrates this approach includes the scene in which Ritchie, Carlyle, Billy and Rodger are involved in a scene that includes two characters that want to engage in sexual activity while other characters are present. Lilly as Rodger, Pragmatically tells Billy to just ignore the conflict, turn his head to the wall and go to sleep.

David Kersh plays Sgt Rooney, an alcoholic and abusive supervisor over Ritchie, Billy and Rodger. Kersh, consistently plays Rooney as solidly drunk and always on the edge. Playing drunk believably and consistently for a length of time in a scene is challenging. There are moments where Kersh nails that connection such as the scene in which he and Sgt Cokes first come on stage and he is belligerent, verbally abusive and has the mix of hesitant and exaggerated movements of someone clearly under the influence of alcohol. As an experienced actor. Kersh adroitly works with the knife fight scene toward the end of the play between Rooney and Carlyle.

Henry Okigbo plays Carlyle. Carlyle is an African American recruit that forcibly intrudes into the relationship between Rodger, Ritchie and Billy. Okigbo is physically tall, muscular and imposing. He uses his imposing physical build and includes personality traits for the character of Carlyle that make this character very intimidating and believably unpredictable. When Carlyle is intimidating Ritchie or threatening Billy, I well believed that violence could happen. Okigbo also shows that he can incorporate q quick wit and humor into a serious situation. Such as, in the second act, when he is confronted by Military Police (M.P) about having blood on his clothing and he immediately provides an explanation that would sound like it was coming from a child that is shoplifting at the local store.

Pat Watson plays Sergeant (Sgt) Cokes. Cokes has already served at least one tour of duty in a combat zone and has been sent stateside for medical reasons. Cokes is constantly under the influence of alcohol. During the first act, the audience learns the reasons why Cokes relies on alcohol as a crutch. Watson gives depth to a character that the audience learns, is beset by his own demons. Though, constantly at least, on the edge of being out of control drunk, Watson plays Cokes on the edge and still in control of his movements and thought process while consistently drunk. His monologues and dialogues are delivered with the slightly slurred speech, hesitant or over exaggerated movements and emotional range that made me believe that I was watching someone that was drinking to forget one or more incidents and experiences in his life. When he shares a memory of an incident that happened to him while on patrol during the Korean War, I was drawn into the story.

John P. Rutherford plays Ritchie, an effeminate soldier from a wealthy Manhattan background. In order to not come across as overly stereotypical, the character of Ritchie should be played with a balance of contradictions that include arrogance, insecurity, pomposity, naiveté and street wise, caring and callous. Rutherford hits all of these notes as the character. In the opening scene, Ritchie is attempting to take care of Martin who has cut his wrist. Ritchie is trying to shield Martin from ridicule from the other soldiers and bandage the wound. During the story, Rutherford as Ritchie has at times heated discussions with Billy played by Lester, where each is presenting their perspective on homosexuality. Rutherford handles the balance of emotional and believable physical characteristics of Ritchie with ease. So much so that the audience may well alternately defend and dislike this character.

The story is set during the time frame of the Vietnam Conflict and It would be easy to say that this is a story that expressed disagreement with the involvement on the United Sates in the Vietnam Conflict. But, it is about so much more. Rather than focusing on the political conflicts within the U.S. about whether we should or should not be involved in the conflict, the story is more about the conflicts, contradictions acceptance and disconnect between cultures and values within this country. Those that remember the time frame and culture of the Vietnam Conflict will recognize the news stories, speeches, interviews and songs played in the preshow and during intermission. This time of history in the U.S. includes cultural revolution, racial strife, anti-homosexual movements, and anti-communist movements. .. This story deals with many of the social issues of the time, using the Vietnam Conflict as the backdrop for the conflicts closer to home. The show contains violence, profanity, scenes and conversations of sexual nature, it is raw and real. It is also a show that I will go see for a second time. Hope to see you there as well

L.I.P. SERVICE at the Firehouse Theatre , 2535 Valley View Lane, Dallas, Texas 75234
Plays August 29, 2015

Thursday through Saturday at 8pm. Ticket are $15 for general admission or call 817-689-6461