Los Angeles Times

June 24, 2005

 

THEATER BEAT

 

'Medal of Honor': a heavy burden

 

Trauma is not drama, as Tom Cole's brief 1976 case study "Medal of Honor Rag" illustrates all too well.

 

This rote confrontation between a nebbishy therapist (Paul Schackman) and a troubled Vietnam vet (Heavy D) strikes some eerie wartime resonances and rises to a few moments of genuine emotion—but where's the play?

 

Director Delroy Lindo, while nurturing a strong, contrasting pair of performances, hasn't found it.

 

Sgt. Dale "D.J." Jackson is one of those less-counted casualties of war, the soldiers who come home too rocked by horror to adjust to civilian life.

 

Jackson's post-traumatic stress is exacerbated by home-front ambivalence about the conflict: Pro-war folks blame him for the war's stagnation, while "kids with long hair" call him "baby killer."

 

Worse yet, Jackson's Medal of Honor came for "conspicuous gallantry" in battle—a grand-sounding phrase for what he remembers as a mad killing spree of Viet Cong who had besieged his tank.

 

Based on real-life veteran Dwight H. Johnson, Jackson is a compellingly torn figure, and the hulking, droop-eyed D plays him with a mixture of resignation and unreachable despair.

 

In the thanklessly expository role of the doctor, Schackman is unerringly precise and unsentimental.

 

But the conversation that unfolds on Nadia Morgan's realistic holding-cell set has a flat emotional arc, almost no leavening humor and few vivifying details. A soldier physically intact but internally destroyed might be a provocative metaphor for a nation at war, but "Medal of Honor Rag" doesn't have that kind of weight.

 

Rob Kendt

 

"Medal of Honor Rag," Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 17. $30. (323) 650-3100. Running time: 1 hour.