Times Theater Critic

One of the strongest pieces of the 1980-81 Los Angeles stage season was the Odyssey Theatre's "Tracers," a collective memory of the Vietnam War, composed and performed by eight men who had been through it. This week "Tracers" opened in New York to outstanding reviews.

The headline in the Daily News was "TRACERS RIPS INTO YOU." Wrote critic Douglas Watt, "If you're ready for another go-round from the Vietnam dogfaces, 'Tracers,' a straight-from-the-groin offering at the Puiblic Theatre, should amply fill the bill. . . ."

The Post's Clive Barnes called "Tracers" an exception to the rule that a play can't be written by committee. It can, he said, when "torn from the raw experience of men who were there." And the Public Theatre company, again directed by John DiFusco, acted the play "to the very moment of life."

Frank Rich of the Times: "There is, one could say, nothing new in 'Tracers.' But the piece is no less powerful for that. When a nation's horror tale is told by its actual witnesses--and told with an abundance of theatricality and a minimum of self-pity--it can still bring an audience to grief."

Rich singled out the two remaining actors from the Odyssey company for special praise, Vincent Caristi and Richard Chavez. But the rest of DiFusco's company are also Vietnam vets, and showed it. "The dream of peace is long dead," Rich wrote, "but the survivors of 'Tracers' heroically honor its memory. . . ."

Artistic director Peter Sellars has announced the first season of his new American National Theatre at the Kennedy Center. The opener, March 23, will be "Henry IV, Part One," with John Heard, John McMartin and Patti Lupone--part of what Sellars calls a campaign to "reclaim Shakespeare for Americans."

Timothy Mayer will direct that one. Sellars will stage the "The Count of Monte Cristo" on May 11, the play that made Eugene O'Neill's father, James, a star. In June, the company will present a lost play by Mae West, of all people: "Come on Over," a comedy of Washington's Embassy Row.

A fourth play will follow in September. The theater's top ticket will be a modest (for these days) $20, and ticket sales will account for only one-third of its $6-million budget. The rest, said Sellars hopefully, will be "philanthropically supported."

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. Sellars , in the January American Theatre magazine: "Our job (as artistic directors) is not to be running back and forth with a thermometer. Our job is to be leading."

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