December 27, 2017 § Leave a comment
Everyone has an opinion on the Vietnam War as well as everyone has an opinion on the recent Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War. My first book, City of Belief, documents, under the guise of historical fiction, my and my friends’ coming of age experiences during that time. We have become and are a part of our country’s disparate, contradictory and combatitive historical memory of that chapter in American history.
A little over a week ago, I was in Vietnam as part of a Habitat for Humanity Global Build in the Mekong Delta. I went with two friends who I worked with at the Catholic Worker in the 1960’s, Dan Kelly and Paul Mann, both draft resisters during that war. Dan served two years in federal prison and Paul, sentenced to three years, had his jail sentence reframed to serving time in National Service.
I landed in Tan Son Nhat airport on December 2 and walked out into Ho Chi Minh City but part of me landed in the old Saigon and news reportage circa 1960’s in my head of that airport under attack. These were superimposed images that would come from time to time as I visited locations that were, in my early twenties, always flickering on tv screens in American living rooms or being written about with fervor in newspapers. Indeed, as the Ken Burns series has revealed and our current political climate in the United States continues to reveal, we remain a nation divided on that war and on any number of political and social issues that were the cultural spin-offs from that era.
That said and because I have my own “take” on what I experienced during that time, I am going to present via this blog a little slice of what I saw in Ho Chi Minh City that has a direct bearing on experiences re-imagined in City of Belief.
The first day walking around Ho Chi Minh, Paul took us to see the memorial to Thich Quang Duc who on June 1963 immolated himself on a Saigon street protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese Government. The photographic image of that somber act appeared in newspapers across the world and was one of the first images to be burned into the psyche of the American public. In some ways, it introduced the complex ferocity of that war. The three of us visiting the memorial placed sticks of incense on the alter and watched as the thin, wavering trails of smoke lifted up along with our private intentions.
Next we went to The War Remnants Museum. The following three photographs are displayed in a section of the museum devoted to the story of United States protest to what is referred to in Vietnam as the American War.
The first photograph is that of David Miller, Catholic Worker friend and colleague, who in September 1965 was the first man to publicly burn his draft card after President Lyndon Johnson made it a Federal crime to do so punishable by 5 years in prison. Dave subsequently served three years for draft refusal.
The second photo found in the museum is that of the public draft card burning in Union Square in November 6, 1965. On the left is Tom Cornell, a founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, next is Mark Edelman, a cabinet maker, alongside him is Roy Lisker, a teacher, next to Roy is Jim Wilson, a Catholic Worker friend and colleague and the youngest of the draft card burners and, finally, David Mc Reynolds of the War Resisters League. For those of you interested in some archival footage that depicts the tumult of the time, the following PBS account is accurate.
Finally, the last photo and most jarring for me, is of our friend and Catholic Worker colleague, Roger La Porte, who immolated himself in front of The United Nations in NYC in the early hours of Nov. 9th, 1965. His story, as I recall it, is told in City of Belief.
We were all young and the war in Vietnam is our story also. All of us have made our separate peace. May our country do the same.
July 19, 2017 § Leave a comment
What could Chekov’s gun have in common with a fountain pen? Did Chekov want the gun if mentioned in the first act, discharged in the second act or by the conclusion of the play? You might tussle with that question in a playwriting course or literature class. You might even have a hot debate about it, some academics even might come to blows, but in the end what happens to that gun or to that pen or, let’s say, to a letter brought conspicuously into a scene yet left unopened. If so, that letter will scream throughout the performance, “Open the damn letter”and if not opened, the audience would squirm in their seats as if sitting on velcro. Such, also, is the power of the prop and the power of the stage-hand who must place the prop in the right place, the right time, the right viewing angle and, yes, be quick and quiet about it.
In Le Retour, a pen plays a central role. I won’t say what happens to said pen or why it plays that role. You’ll need to come and see a performance of the play or follow us to Belgium in the summer of 2018 to get the answer. I didn’t even know the pen would factor so significantly when I started writing the play. Except, now, keying in this blog entry, I see in my mind the spidery, ink scribing of the priest’s grade entry for my young Uncle Léo (circa 1912, College Saint Anne, Church Point, Nova Scotia) where Léo went to school before he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Regiment and sent to war. He never came home. Now, almost 100 years later, we are remembering and bringing those ghosts back. They have words for us whether through pens or keyboards. We need to look and to listen to what they have to say.
July 17, 2017 § 1 Comment
Scotty and Léonce behind the trench in Ypres, Belgium, 1916
“A flare, man!” At home, miles and miles away, the family recites the rosary.
Théo, the youngest Boudreau boy, sees, Elzéar, the second son who went to war, walking up the lane.
But, someone followed or did he?
Final scene before the Menin Gate.
THE CAST OF LE RETOUR/ FOLLOW US TO BELGIUM 2018
July 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
Last night, during our last rehearsal before the final dress rehearsal, a man sat in the audience and sketched away catching evocation through movement and gesture. In the sketch above, we see the blur behind the trenches and below,”Give me a ‘gasper’, man.”
Next, soldier’s home.
Or, is he?
Finally, “They teach you a lot of things in war but……….
July 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
In three days, the play has its début. Here is the recent article published in Nova Scotia’s Tri-County Vanguard.
May 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
The début of Le Retour will take place at Salle Père Maurice in Tusket, Nova Scotia this summer on July 7, 2017 with a second performance scheduled for July 14th. This will also mark the birth of a new theatrical troupe, Théâtre Générations. In many ways, we are a troupe spanning the generations ourselves from 70 years to 8 years and all ages in-beteen. Our common bond is our allegiance to one another and our ancestral bond to Nova Scotia. Acadian and English blood runs through our veins, the same mix of blood spilled on the far-flung battlefields of WWI.
The story of Le Retour is not a new story. There was a war. Governments ordained and men (often boys) went to fight in that war. Families were involved. In our story, two brothers enlisted in the Royal Canadian Regiment during WWI. One came home from that war, one did not. What is new about that story? It’s such an old, old story but one continually new to the families who experienced it, even now, almost 100 years later.
What is the return home like for the soldier who has been and who has done what he has been required to do in that other life that is now over. But, is it really over?
My father was seven years old when his oldest brother, Léo, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Regiment in 1915. Ten months later Léo was reported missing and then killed in action in Ypres, Belgium. His body was never recovered. His name is now engraved on the Menin Gate along with the more than 55,000 other names of the missing whose bodies were never found.
The next son in that family, my Uncle Felix, lied about his age and also enlisted, but four years later, he came home to the village. Le Retour imagines that story. The story of the boy who comes home.
I am writing this Blog entry on Memorial Day weekend, 2017, in the United States of America. On Memorial Day, I will think of my two uncles. Next summer, 2018, Théâtre Générations plans to go and present our play not far from the Menin Gate where every evening since 1928, traffic stops, people gather and bugles sound in remembrance of those whose names are engraved on that wall who have no known grave.
It is a simple and dignified ceremony. I was there once and I look forward to participating again in 2018. I was moved by the ceremony because it was simple and for the few words said and the silence of those gathered and the haunting loft of the buglers’ notes that rose in the still air. For my own part, I did not want to hear patriotic words. I did not want to hear praise for sacrifice although sacrifice there was and valor and, I am sure, its concomitant of regret for some actions done. That is what soldiers endure when they come home from war, if they come home, and what they and their families must bear up and until today in this year 2017.
For those of you who can, please come to our production this summer. All this year and into the next, we will be raising money for our troupe to travel to Belgium in June of 2018. We have already garnered a generous donation of $1,800 from the Municipality of the District of Argyle to assist us in presenting our play in Ieper, Belgium and, hopefully, we will be presenting Le Retour in other venues in the maritimes.
In the next few weeks, while we are in rehearsal, I hope to post some clips on these pages for you to see a bit of our process and also in order to introduce you to the cast.
For now, as befits this Memorial Day weekend, I will close with the sculpture of The Brooding Soldier, St. Julien Canadian Memorial at Vancouver Corner, Ypres Salient, Belgium.
The Brooding Soldier was designed by Frederick Chapman Clemesha, an architect from Regina, Saskatchewan. Clemesa, himself, had served in the Canadian Corps during the war and had been wounded.