Frankly I went to see “Year of the Rabbit” filled with doubt. As a real veteran of the very real war in Vietnam I am always disappointed at how the whole Vietnam experience has been portrayed in films such as “Apocalypse Now” and stage plays such as “Miss Saigon.” I confess that while the facts were deeply muddled “Apocalypse Now” did do a decent job of projecting the bizarre feeling of the experience. And while I did enjoy “Miss Saigon” to me the mere thought of folks dancing and singing during the fall of Saigon was and is simply ludicrous in the extreme. So oh boy let’s see how they make a mess out of some very poignant history in “Year of the Rabbit” a theatrical presentation that is supposed to somehow link Vietnam with Afghanistan.
What a glorious happy amazing surprise “Year of the Rabbit” turned out to be. Unlike anything I have seen to date “Year of the Rabbit” links the lives of those impacted by both wars. It starts with a young Vietnamese girl, Lieu, who is enjoying her life in rural Vietnam as you would expect any young girl would right up until the moment when men with guns show up and turn her life upside down. An American serviceman comes into her life and then as also happened so often leaves her. It was not a matter of the man being evil, it was just how things happened.
Then there are two young Naval Aviators charged with the task of destroying designated targets in Afghanistan. One is a man and the other a woman and they become intimately involved. But then there is a problem when one becomes troubled by the realization that their designated targets often include real people trying to live real lives, people killed by the bombs they drop.
The acting was absolutely superb. Elyse Dinh was beyond magnificent and made every phase of her main character rich and clear. Ashanti Brown projected an utterly real Kara and darn near convinced me that she was indeed half Asian solely through great acting. Peter Mackenzie and Keliher Walsh who in fact wrote the play were perfect as upper middle class parents of their Naval Aviator son. Meshach Taylor was completely believable as a Vietnam Veteran who had enjoyed the love of a young Vietnamese woman but who was not completely thrilled when she found him in America. Together this stellar cast told a series of interrelated stories that indeed showed the very human side of both Vietnam and Afghanistan.
It did not even attempt to tell the broader geopolitical issues that surround both conflicts but “Year of the Rabbit” did show brilliantly just some of the ways in which both of these wars have indeed impacted peoples’ lives. My skepticism has been completely removed. This is one of the best damn plays you will ever see. But it is not perfect.
A character who was supposed to be a Navy Lieutenant Commander wore a uniform bearing the rank of an Army Specialist 4. If that is the only criticism I can come up with then the show is still virtually perfect. But alas I was not all that pleased with ending, basically the final couple of minutes. The scene before the end really cemented the whole show and it should have ended there. So just look at your feet for the last two minutes but do get over to the Atwater Village Theatre and watch this show. It is 90 minutes of near theatrical perfection and the stories it tells need to be told and which are deeply impactful.
“Year of the Rabbit” is produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre LA and is currently at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Atwater Village, California 90039. The show runs now through October 28th 2012 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with Sunday matinees. It is shares the stage with another production “The Belles of Belfast” so to get exact show information please visit www.ensemblestudiotheatrela.org or call 323-644-1929. General admission is $25 and parking is FREE.
By the way so is subscribing to this Examiner; free that is. So take just a few seconds and do that now please. You might also enjoy the more than 2200 classic film and television titles now available exclusively at www.ronirwin.net/id19.html.