Tracers, Mary-Arrchie Theatre.
The blackout in Lakeview postponed the installation of Angel Island's new air conditioner, but the sultry atmosphere perfectly suited Mary-Arrchie's latest production: Tracers offers a tour of the Vietnam war experience. Our guides are seven recruits, whom we follow through torturous basic training (administered by a drill sergeant whose brutality masks a profound sadness), through moments of throat-shearing terror and gut-wrenching despair, through heat, rain, rats, mosquitoes, malaria, the first "Dear John" letter, the first drugs, the first "blanket detail" (gathering up the fragments of shattered corpses), the first kill, and ultimately, the last battle.
John DiFusco's 1980 script, which has been updated to include references to Beirut and the Vietnam memorial, has lost none of its unflinching power or grim irony. ("The unwilling led by the undereducated to do the impossible for the ungrateful," declares squad leader Habu. "But we do our duty.") And the team of young actors assembled by director Dado have done their homework well: they even undertook three days of "field training" in uniform with gear in the marshes of Okauchee, Wisconsin. That familiarity with the play's milieu is also realized in expressionistic detail by designers Robert G. Smith, Kevin Geiger, and Chuck Sansone, and in the cast's camaraderie, which contributes to some of the best ensemble work in Chicago this year.
There have been many theatrical accounts of the Vietnam war and its repercussions since it ended in 1973, but Tracers is still the most accurate, and Mary-Arrchie does it full justice.