The Gangbusters Theatre Company’s “Tracers,” playing at the Little Victory Theatre in Burbank, is a riveting piece of stage work.
Director Leon Shanglebee and a stellar cast of eight bring this retrospective on the personal effects of the Vietnam War to life with chilling ferocity.
Originally created in 1980 by playwright John DiFusco and a group of actual veterans, this mature-themed production isn’t for the faint of heart.
Brutally honest monologues introduce six characters, each sporting a personalized nickname, who then progress from draftees and recruits to seasoned ground troops. Along the way, they share scenes of fear, bravado, concern, bonding and even self-loathing, resulting in a common sense of brotherhood.
What makes these characters explode from the page to the stage is the work of a flawless ensemble of actors.
They endure a physically exhausting boot camp scene administered by Trent Hopkins, who is amazingly authentic as Drill Sgt. Williams. Matt Mann’s “Scooter” is a good old country boy who soon becomes hardened by his experiences. As “Little John,” Frank Stasio finds the perfect balance between his imposing stature and charming naivete.
James Thomas Gilbert’s “Baby San” is the cloistered teenager who matures before our eyes. Romel Jamison is outrageously appropriate, as his character, “Dinky Dau,” is always seeking out some new form of entertainment for the platoon.
Playing “Habu,” the primarily stoic leader of this band, William Christopher Stephens exudes a quiet but effective sense of authority. Christian Levatino’s “Professor,” an intellectual hippie, is a loner who finds a kindred spirit in Brian Barth’s cameo appearance as “Doc,” the camp medic.
Their scene discussing various philosophical intricacies over a joint is a beautiful respite from the ravages of the situation they find themselves in. Technically, director Shanglebee has brought together a team of first-rate artists to provide theatrical elements that perfectly support this production.
Scenic designer Mamie Young has draped the walls with camouflage netting while leaving the central playing space open to accommodate the actors’ movement.
Joe Morrisey’s multilayered lighting floods the stage one moment and intimately defines smaller playing spaces the next.
Sound effects, credited to Michael Flowers and Erik Bleuer, cover the spectrum from 1960s-era music to spine-tingling battle recreations.
The only quibble might be the show’s somewhat confusing conclusion, which seems littered with false endings.
After a shockingly realistic, strobe-lit battle scene, the cast first performs a slow-motion movement sequence and then a chant led by Jamison set to the beat of an onstage drum.
Still, it’s a minor objection, and given America’s current situation in the Middle East, this once again timely production is worthy of your attendance and reflection.
DINK O’NEAL, of Burbank, is an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn.