Theatre review - Leaving Vietnam

RICHARD Vergette’s one-man play is a stunning exploration of what drives populist politics and how they seduce the disaffected.

Car mechanic Jimmy Vandenberg served in Vietnam as a marine. He was one of many working-class men who signed up, proud to represent the US, convinced they were on the winning side.

He takes us through his time there, having to “adapt” to killing, his friendship with a Mexican medic, Jesus Alverado, and the trauma he survived. Decorated for bravery, Jimmy is shocked on his return to be confronted with the anti-war sentiment that had been building back home while he’d been fighting.

His job with Ford is gone. Bernice, the sweetheart he’d left behind and failed to write to, is pregnant with another man’s baby. Like many of his generation, Jimmy feels betrayed, his sacrifices belittled.

After making up with Bernice, marrying her and bringing up her daughter like his own, Jimmy works in a garage and tries to settle down. But memories of war linger, a weight hangs over him, and he feels increasingly alienated by the country he faithfully served.

Jimmy describes his trauma as a rupture inside him. Gradually he is drawn to the sloganeering and cheap politics of Trump who claims he wants to “Make America Great Again”. Appalled, Bernice leaves him.

Leaving Vietnam is a gem of a play, nuanced and multi-layered. Vergette’s beautifully understated performance is both credible and affecting. Co-directors Andrew Pearson and Andy Jordan wisely give it an unfussy staging, allowing Vergette’s fluent monologue and arresting imagery the space to soar.

It’s also timely. Vergette’s depiction of war is particularly resonant and we cannot help but be reminded of subsequent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This 70-minute drama packs a powerful punch.

To April 8

Originally published by Islington Tribune