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The Fantasticks

Fantasticks pic for vcmts website 640x480(Photo courtesy of Jim Lorenzen)



 

JOHN NUTT:  "In 1969-70, the American military in Vietnam assembled a group of 11 soldiers, myself included, and one female civilian employee to put together a production of the musical The Fantasticks.  Traveling by truck, helicopter, and C130 air transport, we entertained troops throughout the war zone."

RICK HOLEN: "Throughout American military history, music has been used to bolster troop morale......   Vietnam was a little different.....So, the military decided to try something else:"

AND.............

The Command Military Touring Show was formed and headed up by a group called the Black Patches.  CPT Hershel W. Gober was instructed by GEN William Westmoreland to provide a 'Command Performance," created the "Black Patches" and the rest is history.   Kicked off in 1966 and throughout the war years,  groups toured the entire length and breadth of South Vietnam and to ships at sea.......wherever there were isolated troops in need of a little relaxation where civiliam performers were not permitted or it was too dangerous to go.

"The Fantasticks followed a number of small scale musical groups that were started by "The ManiActors" and followed by a number of other small-scale musicals.........," said Rick Holen.

Here is the REAL STORY of The Fantasticks as told by the very people who performed the musical in South Vietnam in '69-'70.

The following article OFF-OFF-OFF BROADWAY (in its entirety) appeared in the ESOPUS 12 (FALL 2009) magazine  [©Esopus Foundation Ltd.].  Copies of the ESOPUS 12 magazine may be purchased through the following link...  ESOPUS 12 (FALL 2009).

Special Thanks to Mr. Tod Lippy, Editor/Executive Director of ESOPUS FOUNDATION LTD. for permission to re-print this important story.

(The article has been re-edited only to enlarge the type for easier reading.  The original content and pictures have not been altered in any way, except to resize.)



 

Page1

Fantasticks Cast and Crew

THE MUTE.........SGT Rick Holen
EL GALLO, THE NARRATOR..........SP4 Bob Sevra
LUISA, THE GIRL................DAC Miss Nan Nall
MATT. THE BOY................SP4 Bob Fisher
HUCKLEBEE, THE BOY'S FATHER...SP4 Dave Adamson
BELLAMY, THE GIRL'S FATHER........PFC Gerald Schetzle (Wayne Shannon)
HENRY, THE OLD ACTOR.............SP4 Jim Lorenzen
MORTIMER, THE INDIAN AND PIRATE.......SP4 Roy Fadree

Production Staff

MUSICAL DIRECTOR AND PIANIST........ SP5 Tom Salisbury
STAGE MANAGER, TECHNICAL DIRECTOR AND SET......SP5 John Nutt
PROPERTIES......... SP4 Alan Preston
FOLLOW SPOT OPERATOR.......SP4 John Watts

> DIRECTED by Joe Mauro <

 

Page2The cast and crew in a minefield near the Cambodian borderJOHN NUTT:     In 1969–70,  the American military in Vietnam assembled a group of 11 soldiers, myself included, and one female civilian employee to put together a production of the musical The Fantasticks. Traveling by truck, helicopter, and C130 air transport, we entertained troops throughout the war zone. After the tour was over, we returned to our original military companies. I lost all contact with the other troupe members; in fact, in the ensuing years I told the stories so many times to my family and friends that the tour seemed more mythic than real.  Not long ago, I ran across an invitation to a reunion I had received more than 10 years earlier. It had a phone number for Rick Holen, who had played the part of The Mute in the musical. The number still worked, and I was quickly reconnected to the past. Rick, as it turned out, had been trying to make a documentary film about our experience and the CMTS, or Command Military Touring Shows.

RICK HOLEN:    Throughout American military history, music has been used to bolster troop morale. The fife and drum were used in the American Revolution; the Civil War and the Spanish American War had their brass bands. During World War I, Irving Berlin brought contemporary music to the rear areas, as did Glenn Miller and his band (not to mention many other stars of stage and screen) during World War II. The Korean conflict featured appearances by Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, George Jessel, and Joe E. Brown.

Vietnam was a little different. While Army Special Services in Saigon brought over movie stars like John Wayne, Martha Raye, and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Bob Hope staged an annual Christmas show, these appearances were only for the handful of rear areas where it was safe enough for them to appear. So the military decided to try something else: assemble groups of trained GIs that could defend themselves if they needed to and yet use their musical, acting, and entertainment experience to take the war away from the men in the field for a couple of hours.

The first group of American soldiers to tour front line areas was called the Black Patches. The unit was put together in 1966 by a group of career military officers and enlisted men. They performed mainly covers of popular music, although they were known for some off-color original tunes that lampooned various members of the office staff back in Saigon. The group not only played for the troops in the field; they also performed at many hospitals, where they felt they were needed the most. The Command Military Touring Shows really began with this group. After the success of the Black Patches, there were 118 other groups that toured Vietnam from 1966 to 1971. Many units were folk, soul, country, and rock bands. A group of GIs from Special Services first put together a revue called The Maniactors, followed by a number of other small-scale musicals, from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown to Stop the World I Want to Get Off (and even some one-act plays like Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape). All in all, 580 men and women took part in these CMTS productions.

JOE MAURO:     I arrived at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, on February 6, 1969, with no assignment to any unit. I had been warned to take anything but the First Air Cav. Of course, the following day, I found out I had been assigned to the First Air Cav list and would be stationed in Phouc Vinh. Just my luck: Everyone talked about how the Viet Cong loved to come out of the mountains and mortar the troops. Eventually, our unit relocated to Bien Hoa, and I was assigned to Special Services, with a hooch and a phone line. We had no commanding officer, so being an E-5, I was put in charge.

Before I left for Vietnam, a friend had given me the number of someone to contact should I get to a phone. His name was Brad Arrington. Brad was a fixture in Saigon and was respon- sible for many of the military shows that were put together to entertain the troops in the field. I phoned Brad, and we became fast and close friends. In the course of our working together I threw a lot of ideas out to him and never once did he say it couldn’t be done. My first undertaking was to stage a talent show in Saigon. We put out a notice through the Army Distri- bution Network, and the guys arrived, all of them vying for a chance to get out and perform. After that show, we put together a number of groups, rehearsed them, and sent them out into the field to perform.

page3 top pic Rehearsals at the Army Special Services Compound in Saigon [Photos: Rick Holen]NUTT:     I arrived in Vietnam on July 4, 1969. I was stationed in Saigon, working as a personnel clerk in an Army intelligence unit housed in an old French compound near the edge of the city. One day not long after my arrival, my office phone rang. It was a call from a college friend working for a general at Army Headquarters in Long Binh who had responsibility for troop entertainment. He asked if I wanted to stage-manage a produc- tion of The Fantasticks. My friend and I had both been involved in theater at Dartmouth—he had always been onstage perform- ing, while I was always behind the curtain stage-managing, set-building, or doing the lighting, so his question made sense. When I got his invitation to do some theater, I thought I had lost touch with the tenuous hold on reality I was maintaining in those first months in Vietnam. After the initial shock, I realized this would mean as much as two months away from my unit, and I jumped at the chance.

BOB SEVRA:     I was drafted in the fall of 1968, the first year the draft stopped giving student deferments for more than one year of graduate work. Trying to make some use of this new “brainy” influx, the Army gave an accelerated “language aptitude test” to all those new grad students in the hopes of finding Americans they could quickly train to be Vietnamese interpreters. I was one of the first group of 30 to go through the program—nine months stateside. Of course, since it was the Army, we didn’t learn the language worth a damn; and besides, by the time we got to Nam, most of the natives had learned English—or French, which was my second language.

The day after I landed in Saigon, I reported to 4th Psy Ops, not having any idea what my job would be, or where I might be going. The first sergeant told us new guys that some sort of inspector general was expected in the next day or two, and we rookies should just go back to the hotel we were assigned to and keep out of sight. While the others checked out the town and the bars, I found my way to Special Services, just to see if I might find something that would keep me out of the war.

MAURO:     A fellow named Jay Kerr was assigned to the entertainment division of Special Services in Bien Hoa. He had known the late Clark Gesner, the creator of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and somehow he convinced him to give us the rights to produce it in Vietnam (this was its first staging off of Broadway, as far as I know). I layed Schroeder, and we hit the trails, performing anywhere and everywhere.

Because of the success of the production, Brad and I had a conversation about staging The Fantasticks. There was a civilian female in the Special Services office with a voice that both of us thought was ideal for the female lead. We felt the show would be perfect because it didn’t rely on props and many of the other trappings of large productions.

Notices were sent out for auditions, and I quickly realized that we had a hell of a lot of creative talent going to waste in a country they shouldn’t have been in in the first place.

HOLEN:   My theater experience was rather limited compared with the rest of the cast. Many of them had majored in theater or music performance in college—some even had M.F.A. de- grees. Most of us had been drafted right out of college, but we all had one thing in common: We hated the military and wanted nothing more than to live through the experience and get back to working in the theater—and living in the world.

page3 bottom pic Rehearsals at the Army Special Services Compound in Saigon [Photos: Rick Holen]I had played a role in The Fantasticks in summer stock when I was on leave from the Air Force. Later that summer, on July 4, 1969, I left for Vietnam. One day I got lost in Saigon, which was very easy to do, and I passed by the Army Special Services Compound. There was a banner that read “Auditions for The Fantasticks.” I pulled my jeep over, and after chaining the steering wheel with a paddle lock—it wouldn’t have been there when I got back, otherwise—I ran in and filled out a form and walked into the audition. It felt like a typical theater audition you would find in New York.

SEVRA:     I had always been a singer and an actor. Years before, when I first heard a recording of The Fantasticks, it had been my dream to someday play the character of El Gallo. (Also, from the first time I saw her picture on the album cover and heard
her sing, I fell in love with The Girl from the original show, Rita Gardner. As luck would have it, she was cast as my love inter- est in a musical at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, in 1973, and we’ve been together ever since.)

As it turns out, the day I walked into Special Services, they were auditioning and casting for the touring production of The Fantasticks. I couldn’t believe my luck when I was told I’d got- ten the part of El Gallo.

NUTT:     When I approached the rehearsal hall, I was greeted by the sound of a piano and the lyrics “Try to remember the kind of September…” booming down a small alley in a humble neighborhood of Saigon. I met some of the performers and in short order was informed that my budget was $50 and a jeep. The vehicle was necessary, I was told, because I was going to have to steal practically everything I needed.

MAURO:     I directed the production—and the egos of some of the finest voices I have ever encountered.  I had played Matt in college, and, like most of the cast, was very familiar with the show. In two weeks, working day and night, The Fantasticks was ready to go. Brad did all of the scheduling. I was coming up on the end of my tour of duty, so I only went out on tour for a couple of shows before heading home.

HOLEN:     The Fantasticks was written in 1960 by Tom Jones and Harvey L. Schmidt and was performed at the Sullivan Street Theatre in New York City for 42 years. The story, loosely based on a turn-of-the-century French play called Les Romanesques,
is about two fathers who want their son and daughter to fall in love and marry, so they decide to use reverse psychology to make it happen by forbidding them to see each other. Eventually the children fall in love, but when they find out about the fathers’ plot, they each go off on their own to experience the world. Ultimately, of course, the lovers are reunited. As Joe mentioned, the musical was chosen because the cast was small and production requirements were minimal. We used just an electric piano, basic stage lighting, and hand props.

I expected we would rehearse for a couple of weeks and then perform the musical in Saigon for two or three weekends—that would be it. Little did I know that I would be transferred from the Air Force to the Army 1st Log Command for two-and-a-half months and tour all over Vietnam for three shows a day, putting myself into countless situations where I ran the risk of getting my ass shot off.

page4 top picWaiting on a flight line

NUTT:     Our troupe consisted of eight performers, a musical director/pianist, a stage manager (that was me), a prop man, and most amazingly, a piano tuner who not only tuned but also rebuilt many of the pianos we used. Later, I found out that a number of the military commanders had requested that our troupe perform for them in order to get their pianos tuned!

NUTT:     Our troupe consisted of eight performers, a musical director/pianist, a stage manager (that was me), a prop man, and most amazingly, a piano tuner who not only tuned but also rebuilt many of the pianos we used. Later, I found out that a number of the military commanders had requested that our troupe perform for them in order to get their pianos tuned!

HOLEN:     A number of times during the tour we were called out of the field because of heavy combat, so we would pack up the set and props and fly back to Saigon. The Army would billet us at the Metropole Hotel, a small, run-down place that had been built during the French occupation of Vietnam. The walls were very thick concrete because the Vietnamese were trying to kill as many Frenchmen as they could. Bomb blasts had been com- monplace in Saigon in the previous 100 years: The Vietnamese fought the Chinese, the Japanese, the French, and finally the Americans. (The Vietnamese call our conflict "The American War," which of course they won hands down.)

The Metropole's lobby was made into a military dayroom. It had about five pool tables, leather-covered sofas, and a small bar. Black Label, the only American-made beer in Vietnam, could be purchased for 25 cents a can. The tin was so thick that a "church key" can opener was needed to open it. The lobby had been moved to a side street that had sandbags stacked at the entrance, with a Vietnamese ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) troop standing guard. He generally was sleeping or eating some Vietnamese food.

One time while we were billeted at the Metropole, we were all in one room on the second floor when we heard a big explosion go off right beneath us. I rushed to the window and was immediately grabbed by someone who pulled me to the floor. I said, "What the fuck did you do that for?" "Snipers, you idiot," was the response. The VC would often set off explosions just to see if they could flush out targets after the sapper charge went off. As it turned out, the bomb had taken out the entire dayroom, including the five or six GIs playing pool at the time of the explosion. I never went back into it.

NUTT:     We got around Vietnam primarily by flying in C130 or C123 air transports, CH47 Chinook helicopters (also called “shithooks”), Huey helicopters, and occasionally large troop- transport trucks. One particularly vivid incident I recall was when a CH47 Chinook crewmember decided to use our large box of costumes and props as a landing marker. As it hit the ground, the box popped open and the contents started to fly out. I jumped out and threw myself on top of the box to protect it, and the helicopter landed about two feet from my head.

page4 bottom picFlying in a C123 to another performance.HOLEN:     Vietnam was carved up into military zones. 4 Corps was in the South, and 1 Corps was up near the DMZ on the northern
 
border of Vietnam. We often had to fly from one location to the other because there were no roads between bases. We would wind up stuck for hours on some remote flight line, waiting for a cargo plane to pick us up to fly to another performance.
Sometimes we would fly in choppers, and often I would look down into the jungle and see little green tracer rounds coming up at us. The chopper door gunners would just laugh at them, like they were bumblebees.  We didn’t think it was so funny. We knew we were being watched from the tree lines wherever we landed. Even in Saigon, I would see people following us as we walked around the city. There were rumors that any VC or NVA soldier who killed an entertainer would get a $1,500  bounty. I don’t know if that was true or not, but it was a little unnerving.

NUTT:     The places we performed tended to be unusual. In one location, we set up the stage in a boxing ring. Everything was going well until the electric piano our musician was using started to receive radio communications from B-52 pilots flying overhead. The musician turned off the power to the piano and the performers sang a cappella after that. Another time, we set up in a large movie theater and several hundred mud-covered marines walked in carrying weapons. As soon as the music started, almost all of them rushed out in a kind of stampede— apparently, they had expected a movie. A few soldiers re- mained, though—they moved up to the front and watched the whole show.

HOLEN:     We played at Freedom Hill, which was a Marine Corps base near the DMZ. It was a large tent that was used normally as a chow hall. We set up for the show, and the tent was just packed with hard-core “jarhead” marines (and I mean that as a “Mark of Honor and High Respect”). We had stage lights, so they turned off the regular lights. Halfway through the show, about 12 troops entered with their steel helmets and weapons. They had just come off a patrol. In the low light, it looked like they had dark mud all over their uniforms. As the two lovers started to sing “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” I noticed that two or three of the troops right down in front—just a few feet away from the edge of the stage—suddenly had tears running down their face. At the end of the show, the house lights were turned on, and I could see that it wasn’t mud on their uniforms; it was blood—a lot of it. It turned out they had just been in a firefight and lost many of their brothers.

NUTT:     At one point we played in a large amphitheater in Cam Ranh Bay. The theater was right off the beach, and a huge wind blew across the theater from the audience’s side toward the stage. I ran a spotlight behind the audience that night and discovered from that perspective that the wind was so strong no one in the audience could hear any music at all; to them, it was just a mime show.

HOLEN:     We had performed a number of times at Long Binh Army Base because it was one of the largest bases in Vietnam. The Army used it as a storage area for most of the war materi- als brought into Saigon Harbor. They had pallets of Black Label that went on for what seemed like miles. (A Vietnamese kid told me that they didn’t run out of Black Label Beer in Vietnam until 1978. The Vietnamese not only drank the beer; they used the cans as house-building materials. They would flatten them out and weld them together into sheets for walls and Page5Production materials [Photo: U.S. Army Special Services Program]roofs.)

One night we performed at an outside movie theater there. It was nothing more than five sheets of plywood painted white with a small stage. The seats were long two-by-eight-foot boards. In the middle of the first act, I turned upstage for only a moment, and when I turned back around, everyone in the audience was gone. Then I heard a series of mortar rounds going off one after another, each round coming closer to the stage. There was a bunker off stage right, and I ran to the doorway. It was crammed full of people, like a can of sardines. As the sixth round exploded, I asked, “Room for one more?” From deep inside the bunker, someone yelled, “Fuck no!” I ran back and jumped under the electrical field generator as the last round exploded about 20 feet away. Someone later explained that Special Services had plastered flyers all over the base giving the place and time for the performance, and the VC had used the movie screen as a focus point for rockets and mortars.

After the attack, the audience demanded that we pick up where we had left off. We did, and they loved the show.

HOLEN:     Not all the venues we played were so primitive. We performed at the Bob Hope Theater in Da Nang. It was a large movie theater, with maybe 500 seats—the stage even had a grand curtain. I had to use the bathroom, so I asked this very tall jarhead marine where the john was. He looked down at me and said, “You mean the head?” I shrank like a small spider, and he pointed stage right. As I went into the bathroom, I noticed a small gold star on the door. I sat down on the flush toilet and saw a brass placard on the wall that read, “Ann-Margret shit here Dec. 23, 1968.”

NUTT:     For me, the most memorable event was a show we put on in a bar that was part of a Special Forces camp on the Cambodian border. The GIs had strung up a rope to divide the bar into two sections. Roped off in the back section was a group of Montengard soldiers. They were a native people who lived in a nearby village and fought on the same side as the Americans. They couldn’t have understood a word of the lyrics, but they appeared completely mesmerized by the performance. In the meantime, the Special Forces troops in the front completely ignored us, drinking at the bar with their backs turned.

When the show was over we were invited to the sergeant major’s hooch for some serious drinking. As we were all getting pretty plastered, the sergeant major leaped up and an- nounced that we had to see the Cambodian border, which was not far away. By this time it was getting dark, and we were a bit wobbly from the alcohol as we started across a small field to a tree line in the distance. After a few steps, the sergeant major yelled, “Walk where I walk!” We asked why, and then he yelled, “Land mines!” So we threaded our way to the tree line, walking in his footsteps as carefully as we could. Once there, we could look down into a valley, which he said was the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and across the valley was Cambodia.

The next day, the troupe was invited to visit the Montengard village, which was a beautiful group of thatched-roof houses built on stilts. The houses were built with a very fragrant wood; the whole area had a wonderful perfumed smell as a result. The chief of the village invited us into his house, and we all sat around drinking rice wine out of a large vat that had many long, reed-like straws. Water was poured in at the top, and then over the course of many days it made its way to the bottom, by which point it had fermented. As we drank from the bottom of the vat through the long reed straws, the level dropped and was measured by refilling the vat with water—it was a kind of drinking game. Needless to say, we all got pretty drunk downing rice wine by the quart.

Page6Performance at a Green Beret camp in the Central HighlandsHOLEN:     One time we were performing for a transportation unit at a service club at Long Binh. There were about 200 troops watching the performance. Right in the middle of the second act, I heard the sound of something rolling across the floor. Looking down, I saw that a green pineapple grenade had rolled upstage. My first instinct was to jump on it to save the rest of the cast. But then I noticed that there was no smoke coming out of the top of it—it was a fake. The soldier who threw the grenade was sitting with his feet resting on the stage. One of the cast members, who had attended the School of Performing Arts in New York and was trained as a comedian, picked up the fake grenade, broke character, and asked the soldier, “Do you want to be in show business?” The guy answered, “No!”  The actor responded, “Then get your boots off the stage!”

HOLEN:     After one performance, we had loaded the costumes, lights, and props on a deuce-and-a-half truck and were headed back to Saigon for the night. When we got about a mile out of the main gate at Long Binh, we could see a long green line coming out of the bush to our right. A convoy that was less than a half mile in front of us was being hit with a large machine gun. There were about 10 vehicles in the convoy, and they were really getting hit hard. We could see that they weren’t even returning fire because they were pinned down by the massive amount of fire they were receiving. Our tracer rounds were red in color and the VC rounds were green, so we knew what was going on. I was sitting in the middle of the cab, and I told the driver, “Fuck this—let’s go back to Long Binh.” So he turned around and we went back. Our lead actress stayed with the nurses at the 24th EVAC hospital.

We ended up at the replacement battalion with no sheets, pillows, or blankets. As we walked into the hooch, we could see long, thick strings hanging from the rafters. I thought they were light pull switches until someone turned on the lights: They were rats’ tails. Everyone took a lower bunk and tried to get some sleep. Back in Saigon, we found out we all had lice from sleeping on very dirty mattresses.

 

Page7 top-left picThe Old Actor, Luisa, The Indian, and Matt during the abduction scene at Cam Ranh Bay Service Club [Photo: U.S. Army/National Archives]

 

Page7 top-right picThe Mute and two Fathers singing “Plant a Radish” at Cam Ranh Bay Service Club [Photo: U.S. Army/National Archives]

 Page7 bottom-left picFirst performance at the American-Vietnam Association in Saigon [Photo: U.S. Army Special Services]  Page7 bottom-right picMatt, The Old Actor, and The Indian at the American-Vietnam Association in Saigon [Photo: U.S. Army Special Services]

That next day we drove past the convoy that had been hit the night before. All that was left were burned-out hulks of armed personnel carriers and deuce-and-a-half trucks. We didn’t know how many guys had been killed or wounded. The only thing
I could think was, “Christ, that could have been us!” And it would have been if we had left five minutes earlier.

Page8The Fathers singing “Plant a Radish” at the Bob Hope Theater in Da NangHOLEN:     We played every hospital and aid station in Vietnam. There was one night performance at an aid station out in the bush. These were places where, if the injuries weren’t serious enough to put the injured into a hospital unit, they would take the individual off the line and stitch him up. As soon as the wounds healed, they would send him right back out. I would say there were about 100 guys in the audience. We played on another movie-screen setup. There was a movie after our performance. Once our show began, a blue cloud of smoke started to rise above the audience. It wasn’t normal smoke; it was pot. It got more intense as the play continued, and we could tell the troops were beginning to lose interest in our little musical. At the end of Act I, one of the lead characters, lying on a small box at the front edge of the stage, reaches his hand out to the audience as he pretends to die. One of the troops put a pot pipe into his right hand. We knew we’d never make it through Act II, so we just ended the show at that point. As we were striking the set, the movie started: John Wayne’s The Green Berets.

At one hospital we performed for a large number of very badly wounded troops. A majority of the audience sitting closest to the stage were soldiers who could not be transported to a Navy hospital ship or to a stateside hospital. Some were burn patients; others were still in their bed with tubes attached. A number of them were in wheelchairs.  We knew this was a big event for them, so we set up and did our show with as much en- ergy and professionalism as we could muster. During the show, one of the fellows in a wheelchair turned gray, and his head just fell forward. A nurse rushed to him, put a towel over his head, and wheeled him out. I am pretty certain he had just died.

One time we were at another hospital on the coast overlook- ing the South China Sea. We had set up in what looked like a dining hall or large room. On one side of the stage, double doors led into the ER, and on the other side of the stage, the outer door led to the dust-off chopper pad. We started the show, and in the middle of Act II, five or six ER people rushed by the front of the stage and out the swinging door leading to the chopper pad. Seconds later, two or three litters were rushed by the front of the stage carrying guys, moaning and screaming, with their guts hanging out. We just continued as if nothing had happened—this  was war and we had a job to do.

SEVRA:     As far as the tour itself, my memories are faded at best. I do remember feeling a bit apprehensive as to how this very delicate, innocent show would go over with a bunch of grunts, just out of the field and looking for booze and hookers and dope. In a few places, it took the audience a while to figure out what it was they were seeing. But in almost every case, they’d slowly warm to it, and by the end, they’d be cheering. I’ll never forget one guy. He was a great big old first sergeant who could have snapped me in half like a toothpick, and he nervously, almost reluctantly, came up to me after a show and said, “Man, I ain’t never seen no thee-ay-ter before. That...that...that was good!” I think that was one of the best reviews I’ve ever gotten, and certainly one I’ll always remember.

NUTT:     Personally, I thought the choice of material was kind of odd, but at the same time, many people really liked it. I think for the audiences, the show provided a complete break with reality. Everyone wanted to get back to “the world” and away from Vietnam, and for a few hours, the play had that effect.

HOLEN:     The GIs seemed to be transported to another plane of existence during the performances. The play lasted only about an hour and a half, but for that short period of time, we felt that we could put at least a temporary stop to the death and devastation, the boredom and total terror of war. The audiences would sometimes give us a standing ovation for five minutes. That is the magic of theater.

MAURO:     For both the performers and the audiences, these shows were like an oasis in the desert. It was truly gratifying to be able to get GIs out of a combat situation by putting them in a show for a month or two. And I know the troops who saw the shows viewed them as a welcome relief from the absurd world that all of us had been thrown into at that time. Everyone could relax, unwind, and get lost in the moment. I wonder, too, if these performances didn’t help all of us to stay focused on our ultimate goal: getting out of that hellhole in one piece—and with all our marbles.