War –What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!
The lyrics of Edwin Starr’s protest song echoed growing sentiment in parts of the US population in the 1970s during their country’s military involvement in Vietnam. US actress Jane Fonda created controversy by adding her very high profile to that opposition, going beyond attending demos and going so far as to visit North Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.
There she visited US POWs, made radio broadcasts denouncing the use of anti-personnel bombs by the US and called worldwide attention to the Nixon Administration’s cover-up of US deliberate policy of bombing the country’s vital system of dikes. While there she was photographed laughing and singing while astride a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun inciting a hate campaign against her amongst the US military and their supporters.
On 18 June 1988 when that particular war is over, Fonda is in Westbury, Connecticut to start filming Stanley & Iris with Robert de Niro. She in turn is met with fierce opposition and personal protest from a group of Vietnam veterans whose long discarded backpacks are still full of nursed wrath.
The seven empty chairs on the stage slowly fill as the last of the audience takes their seats to witness what is billed as a trial. The meeting between Fonda and a group of ex-soldiers takes place in the hall of St Michael’s Episcopal church whose minister the Reverend John Clarke (John Sackville) is also a former fighter. A giant screen above the stage serves as a giant TV set in contemporary style that shows news and film footage of the war.
Each actor states his case in turn each narrating his own bitter tale and expressing the betrayal they felt in their perceived roles as ‘Winter Soldiers’ – a phrase coined to describe a soldier who fights in any conditions and a parody of Thomas Paine’s so called Summer patriots. Their black and white views and residual hatred show a lack of common humanity and the results of the dehumanisation of war. At times they display deep and disturbing sexism like the Hanoi Jane piss mat whose shock value made the Not Fonda Jane tee shirt seem relatively harmless.
Anne Archer gives a calm and confident performance as the mature Fonda whose character ultimately expresses contrition at past naïvety. This interesting play that is the result of extensive research by writer and director Terry Jastrow has a strong redemptive ending with the art of listening winning out, but the set made it feel like a reading and it was more of a confrontation between conflicting ideologies with a history lesson thrown in than a trial. Fonda was never charged with any crime. There was no judge and jury; only individual consciences on trial here.
30 July – 24 August 2014