The Weekend Theater in Little Rock offers an engaging slice of life during wartime with its production of John DiFusco's Vietnam War drama “Tracers.”
The play, directed by first-timer Frank O. Butler, follows the experiences of six young Marines before, during and after the war. Together, the grunts face about everything the bitter conflict had to offer — from the horrors of combat to the escapist joy of sex and drugs. The ones who return home alive are forever changed, marked physically and emotionally by what happened a world away.
Butler has assembled a fine cast for the drama, which is good because — standing on a Spartan set and among few props — they shoulder the entire weight of the production. The youthful group doesn’t look much different than many of the era’s 18- and 19-year-old soldiers, particularly actor Jason D. Willey, who brings a wide-eyed look of naivete to the role of Dinky Dau. It's a portrait made all the more devastating when Dinky emerges post-war in a wheelchair with a heroin addiction.
Other stand-outs include John Andrew Ellis, as an intellectual grunt who hides behind the pages of “Steppenwolf” to avoid bonding with fellow soldiers; Evan Tanner, who struggles to bridge the widening gap between himself and his girlfriend at home; Ralusrai Richardson, perfectly cast as a charismatic squad leader; and Duane Jackson, whose turn as a profane drill sergeant would make “Full Metal Jacket” sadist R. Lee Ermey proud.
“Tracers” is valuable as a record of Vietnam War experiences; it was written by its original cast of Vietnam vets. It begins with impressionist flashbacks of soldiers' experiences from different points of view before settling into a nearly chronological series of scenes. All the while, the audience can mark time by the rock music playing in the background.
Some of the melodrama and histrionics of the play's final, awkwardly staged battle scene seem overwrought, but the sincerity and emotion behind the production's quieter moments more than compensate. But the subject matter, writing and chemistry of the cast make “Tracers” one hell of a tour of duty.
— By Lance Turner