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'A Work of Art': Echoes of Vietnam in the latest in war trilogy

A Work of Art: Echoes of Vietnam War fill Elaine Romero's latest play in her"U.S. at War" trilogy.

Water colour display at Fine Arts Museum

Viet Nam Fine Arts Museum is showing a collection of watercolour sketches to mark the 105th birth anniversary of master artist Tran Van Can (1910-2015).

Photo exhibition showcases country's beauty

A photo exhibition of works about Viet Nam's people and natural landscape opened yesterday at the HCM City-based Rex Hotel Saigon.

Climate quiz awards granted

The EU Delegation to Viet Nam gave five quiz participants from Ha Noi, HCM City and Da Nang awards yesterday for answering questions about climate change on its Facebook page.

Series of events planned to celebrate Family Day

The E De ethnic group's traditional marriage proposal will be staged for the first time at the Viet Nam National Village for Ethnic Culture and Tourism on Sunday morning.

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'A Work of Art': Echoes of Vietnam in the latest in war trilogy

A Work of Art: Echoes of Vietnam War fill Elaine Romero's latest play in her"U.S. at War" trilogy.

Earlier this year at 16th Street Theater, Elaine Romero unveiled "Graveyard of Empires," the first play in her "U.S. at War" trilogy, which took an elliptical but ultimately poignant journey into the aftermath of an American soldier's death by a "friendly fire" drone mistake in Afghanistan. Now the second play in that trilogy, "A Work of Art," gets its world premiere at Chicago Dramatists under Henry Godinez's direction. But where the earlier work took some sharp jabs at the mechanisms of war and its collateral damage, "A Work of Art" takes too few risks along the way.

Sabrina (Jennifer Coombs) is the big sister of Kirk (Vic Kuligoski), a soldier who died in Vietnam in 1968. It's now 1978 and Sabrina has moved from their childhood home in Illinois, where they were largely raised by their loving Mexican stepmother, Carmen (Charin Alvarez), to Los Angeles, where she works in an office by day and re-enacts "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" by night. ("Cool anonymous sex and never late for work. I love me," she congratulates herself at one point.) Sabrina also entertains fantasies that Kirk survived and is living in Vietnam with a Vietnamese wife and child, and rejects the advances of the nice guy in her office, Emiliano (Mario Moreno), as well as the entreaties from her former childhood friend (and Kirk's former fiance), Ria (Stephenie Soohyun Park).

The inability of America as a nation to fully deal with the aftermath of Vietnam is perhaps one of the greatest and thorniest of our national narratives. It's admirable that Romero is looking at it through the lens of those on the home front. But the war itself feels far more like a device here than an integral part of the story that Romero wants to tell. The nonlinear structure and jumps from real-world interludes to Sabrina's Vietnamese fantasias would work better if they allowed us to see Sabrina's story as something other than a rather generic journey through grief to healing.

Vietnam War exhibit puts visitors in the jungle boots of soldiers

Unlike in "Graveyard of Empires," where a father's guilt over developing the Predator drone program has a direct link to his son's fate, one gets the sense that Sabrina, who along with her brother was abused by their real parents, would be emotionally defensive and perhaps slightly delusional (she claims that she doesn't believe in time) whether Kirk died in war or in a car accident. Though there are snippets of period-cliche dialogue ("Don't trust anyone over 30," "Sex drugs and rock and roll"), I found myself longing for Romero to dig deeper and to explore how the historic particulars of the war in Vietnam caused a national case of post traumatic stress disorder with which we're still grappling.

But there is an elegance and poetry in Romero's dialogue that Godinez's production foregrounds. Though they are very different characters, Sabrina's emotional defiance bears a resemblance to Rosemary, the Vietnam widow in Bruce Norris' "Purple Heart," especially in how Sabrina knows that grief tends to drive people away. She tells Emiliano "I am one of the unfortunates. Time has taken advantage of me. And once your bad luck starts, you can really clear a room."

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