Foxworx Theater Company

at Urbus Orbis

Imagine having a stranger enter your house at any time by any means. Imagine this same stranger having total control of your time, movements, and even your personal appearance. Imagine being ordered to pack and vacate your house within a few hours. Imagine the possibility of this occurring at any time of the day or night–and any number of times. You now have an idea of what the military is like in peacetime.

Glasnost notwithstanding, there’s been a pervasive feeling recently that war might not be hell. We’ve seen the Vietnam war as allegory, soap opera, and sitcom–all manner of packaging designed to appeal to civilian sensibilities. But the war is not the backdrop for the story of John DiFusco’s Tracers. The war is the story.

The play opens with seven men taking up their weapons–M-16 rifles, .45s, machetes. We follow them through boot camp, where their sergeant informs them, “Ten percent of you will become fighters. Of that 10 percent, maybe 1 percent will become warriors. Eighty percent of you will be only targets.” We follow them through heat, mosquitos, rats, malaria, terror, boredom, disappointment, the first kill, the first “blanket detail” (in which they gather up fragments of shattered corpses, one of them vainly trying to match up an arm with one of two limbless torsos), the first Dear John letter, the first drugs, and the last patrol. In short, the entire Vietnam infantry experience.

These seven men collectively comprise the Vietnam war veteran: Doc, the bookish medic who quietly puts a bullet through his head one night; Baby San, who wounds himself for the sake of a month’s hospitalized safety; Little John, who leaves the war with a crippled leg and later gets cancer from having been exposed to Agent Orange; Dinky Dau, who leaves the war with a heroin habit and no legs; Scooter, who left the war and went to prison; Professor, who left the war and entered a monastery; and Habu, who never left the war. “They tell me you’re a veteran” are the first words spoken in the play. “You were there” are the last. In between, we learn what that means.

The all-civilian Foxworx Theater Company has obviously employed many technical advisers in the preparation of their production. I’m a veteran myself and tired of hearing actors playing GIs speak military slang as if they’d learned it at Berlitz, so it makes me very happy to report that the eight men who make up the cast of Tracers, though their mean age appears to be around 26, are thoroughly and gut-wrenchingly convincing in their portrayals. Director Gregg C. Jones has skillfully managed to fit this action-packed epic into a stage space so small that front-row audience members had soldiers falling and crawling within a foot of their feet. Allison Frojd’s costumes are authentic down to Doc’s fatigue shirt, on which is written, “If you’ve got the time, I’ve got the drugs.” Property manager Andrea Burd has created a phony marijuana that even smells like the real thing, and Missy Marquis has scored a medley of vintage music that underlines the action with chilling irony.

“This play is dedicated to the 59,000 who missed the Freedom Bird” reads a program note. It’s easy, sitting in our comfortable living rooms watching China Beach, to think we’ve seen it all before and don’t need any more war stories. I can’t claim, by any means, that Tracers will put anybody in a holiday mood, but it might make them feel a little luckier being alive to celebrate.