Nearly two weeks ago, Terry Jastrow and Anne Archer invited me and my boyfriend to their stunning, ranch-style home in the Pacific Palisades. I was both flabbergasted that this super lovely couple wanted to spend an afternoon entertaining us and nervous about the daunting task I knew they both had ahead of them. Jastrow, a producer now turned playwright, and Archer, a well known actress with 86 titles under her IMDB profile belt, had decided to take their joint efforts to the theater stage with a poignant and temporally appropriate play entitled Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion. The piece, written and directed by Terry Jastrow and co-directed by Michelle Danner, is set in Waterbury, Connecticut, in a modestly dressed Episcopal Church on June 18, 1988. Jane Fonda, portrayed by Anne Archer, meets with six Vietnam vets to set the "record straight," and the writer's note in the bill says, "The play is in no way an attempt to re-enact what happened, or to specifically portray any of the vets who attended (almost all refused to cooperate with this project). But rather the meeting is used as a forum to surface many controversial and polarizing issues that have festered for years."
After seeing the play tonight, in a super sneaky preview that opened to a group of less than 40 people, I'd like to argue that this piece of performance art is temporally appropriate because of the many parallels one could draw between Jane's war in the 60s and 70s, our current war that seems to have no end in sight, and of course, the class war here at home that results from the frighteningly unequal distribution of wealth. I could draw parallels between the May 4th Massacre at Kent State and our present day, watered down version, the kettled female protesters being pepper sprayed for reasons that are still unclear to me. However, I'm not going to talk about war, distribution of wealth or the cyclical nature of a deep-seated need for social change. Instead, I'd like to focus on the things that make me feel blessed to be stateside: a Friday night preview showing of Jastrow and Archer's play, down at the Edgemar Center for the Arts on Main Street in Santa Monica.
The play opens with the vets' brief introductions, single men lit by a spotlight in a darkened theater. They open with statements about war, the reasons to go, the reasons to fight, "It's in my D.N.A.," confesses one and yet another confession, "Country, right or wrong." Throughout the play, a large television flashes videos of Jane, sitting on the seat of the anti-aircraft gun or dancing and singing "F.T.A." The infamous conversation between Kissinger and Nixon regarding bombing of the dikes and the potential of a nuclear bomb plays out and the audience sits silent, wondering what bit of history will be shared next. Anne Archer takes to the stage and the story of how Jane unintentionally became the scourge of military men across the nation begins to take shape. Archer is a natural on stage, easy to like, and even though she maintains a conversation with the veterans throughout the play, she occasionally speaks to the audience, urging us to become active, claiming that, "it would take the power of the youth to counter the absolute power of the government," all as the voice of Jane Fonda. The actors that portrayed the vets did so passionately and enthusiastically, and I couldn't help but love Terrence Beasor, who played a grumpy and foul-mouthed WWII vet and Don Swayze, younger brother to Patrick and equally as handsome.
While there were some areas in need of improvement, perhaps some additional direction that would ultimately make the piece more dynamic to watch, I hesitate to say anything negative because at this infant stage of the play's development, I expect it will be growing legs and walking on its own in no time. In fact, after the last three nights of previews, Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion was invited to stay at the Edgemar until the end of November, for weekend 8 p.m. showings. When I asked Jastrow why he had decided to write a play about Jane Fonda and Vietnam, he offered up six different and well articulated answers ranging from "Jane Fonda has been roughed up hard enough," to a desire to, "alter historical record." My favorite reason though, was because he, "was ashamed. As a college student in the late 60s, and young businessman in the early 70s, [he] was apathetic, ignorant and dismissive of the Vietnam War, while 58,000 of [his] brothers were killed in the service of their country. [He's] hoping to make amends somewhat by doing this." As a result of this nagging sense of missed social responsibility, Jastrow spent years researching for the Fonda play, and while it may have been too late for Fonda to apologize to the vets she hurt with her outspoken nature, it certainly isn't too late for Jastrow to make his personal amends.
So, yes, there is a worldwide revolution. We watched it in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Greece, England and Spain. We are still watching in Libya, and now with the Occupy Wall Street movement taking the United States, it's undeniable that we are in desperate need of social change. It is equally undeniable that, as Jastrow's motivation behind writing about Vietnam proves, our inherent feelings of social responsibility don't dissipate over the years. So whatever you think you need to do, whether it's join the protests, write your congressperson, go see a play about Jane Fonda or sit peacefully behind your computer and watch it all from afar, don't be afraid to take charge. Don't be afraid to be a part of the change. Only we can make it happen.
Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion opened at The Edgemar Center for the Arts, Saturday, October, 8th, 2011.
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