by Carole Di Tosti
The East to Edinburgh Festival at 59E59 Theaters presents productions before they travel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, UK. One such offering presented by Infinite Variety Productions, In Their Footsteps, is about the Viet Nam War. Written by Ashley Adelman and Kelly Teaford and directed by Ashley Adelman, In Their Footsteps takes a maverick approach to events that occurred over fifty years ago. Adelman and Teaford elected to highlight what happened in Viet Nam from women’s perspectives. What they have rendered is astonishing and memorable.
What we rarely find featured in news stories or noted novels about this divided time in our history is that thousands of young American women who enlisted in the military were increasingly sent to Vietnam to serve during the war. Writers Adelman and Teaford focused on these women enlistees and interviewed five of them. Two were military officers and three were civilian employees.
Using their memories, impressions, opinions and anecdotes, the writers chronicle a series of events the women experienced beginning with their placement in Viet Nam up to their decisions to return home. Their stories are interwoven together to form what has not been revealed before. Thus, their personal feelings and lives during that time are being made public to reveal lessons we may need to learn and views we surely need to understand.
Notably, all of the issues and themes that have been confronted in the literature of returning male Vets from that era are touched upon in this play. One of the key themes In Their Footsteps presents is that in war time, whether male or female, the issues and conditions individuals experience are often similar. Psychological trauma is painful and not easily mitigated. Expectations of what serving during wartime is like move beyond imagination to hard, mind-searing reality.
And it is this reality which remains. And though one wishes to forget, the more it is buried, the more flashes from the unconscious burst into awareness. Thus, not only is this chronicle enlightening for the audience to understand the war from these women’s points of view. The retelling is healing. And the hurtful divides in our nation between those who supported the war and those who didn’t, which the production alludes to, reveal new themes for us to contemplate today. For once again our country is divided. And this time one might suggest the threat is even more insidious as we deal with an ongoing cyber war with a foreign adversary which some refuse to acknowledge.
Adelman’s and Teaford’s script features characters based on the oral histories of Lucki Allen who wrote Three Days Past Yesterday and the other women. Lucki Allen is portrayed by Chrystal Bethell, Jeanne Christie by Niki Hatzidis, Judy Jenkins who also Co-wrote is portrayed by Caroline Peters, Ann Kelsey is portrayed by Kate Szekely and Lily Adams is portrayed by Shelby Rebecca Wong. Bethell, Hatzidis, Peters, Szekely and Wong portray their counterparts with a vitality and authenticity that reveals a dedication to the importance of getting the truth of the women’s stories correct. The actors work well to fluidly create the rapidly changing and transformative places in the women’s lives. With five blocks they create sounds of gunfire and explosions, mundane offices and other scenes of peace and war. Innovatively, they effect a coffin, a jeep, a bunker, a rooftop and settings which encompass a barracks, an office, the jungles of Viet Nam and much more.
Through the gauze of time past, together the actors revive the old memes of fifty years ago that audience members may not be familiar with. Underscoring the entire production is the importance of the roles women played then. Indeed, they played a more vital part in the war effort than we may have realized then. And this knowledge reminds us that today, women are playing a crucial part in the current and ongoing wars overseas. In their striving to receive equality (an Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be passed in our nation), women contribute their bravery, intelligence, sensitivity, grist, unique perspectives and heart. For this they must be given due recognition. Women are memorialized on the Viet Nam Memorial Wall. And we must not consign them to the dust heap of a forgotten or invisible history.
In Their Footsteps. Final show (which was sold out) at 59E59 Theaters was July 14. It will be presented next at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which runs from August 3 – August 27 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Hopefully, it will appear at other venues when it returns. It is a must-see.
Photos/Art Courtesy Infinite Variety Productions