note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark
90.9 WBUR fm
8 - 9 p m Memorial Day, Monday, 24 May, 1998
Can anyone SEE a radioplay?
I've always thought so, because I grew up with wall-to-wall drama on radio. Unfortunately, once the hour was over tonight (it is 9:42 as I type) only those of us who heard it know anything about it. And I'm sorry the credits went past my ears too fast for me to write down even the author's name, and that when I checked the WBUR website there was no information on the show. I am really glad, however, that when "my" radio station decided to air a radioplay, they chose one as movingly written and produced as this one. " don't mean nothin' " really deserves rebroadcast.
Strictly speaking, the play was a dramatic monolog, in an even, calm, mostly passionless voice, while half-heard fragments of sounds painted in the backgrounds and the events. Occasionally, often too faint to be fully understood, the other voices in various dialogs were heard, but instead of engaging in the conversation the narrator continued describing it, as though he were witnessing it in his mind. This was a memory play.
It began with the man's draft notice. When he went into the Army late in the Vietnam War his father who had known war said "It's your decision" and his sweetheart said the same thing, but he joined. His naive innocence about it all was shaken when first joining a front-line platoon, where the eyes of the two-tour men coldly appraised him "wondering if I would stand by them in difficulty, would I run away, would I get them killed." He went through a quick catalog of all his platoon-mates, all with brief, insightful descriptive comments. "These were my family now. They would always be my family."
He talked, numbly, of everyone pleading with the doc "who had handled nothing but pimples and leeches" to save the life of a comrad with a small round hole in the middle of his forhead and the back of his head blown off. He talked of rocket-raids and knowing V C were in his area, of lying suddenly alone guarding a trail, of seeing one of three figures approaching look at him in shocked surprise --- and of being told, afterward, that he had put his first burst through that first man's chest and fired again and again at the second who was crawling away, of realizing he had expended twenty-three rounds, but learning that they third man got away. He spoke of the photo found on the dead body of that man's family, wife and kids: "It was a small photo, but a large family. I didn't want that photograph."
He spoke of a first warm shower after weeks on alert, and counting the days till his tour would be over. He spoke of the grenade that smashed his legs, of Sandy who had thrown his helmet over it and saved his life, of seeing the medic on an evacuation helicopter shoving Sandy's guts back in through the hole in his abdomen, and shoving Sandy into a body-bag, and about going back to the real world.
But that was only half the play. While he was describing encounters with people, with old friends --- people who hardly knew there was a war at all --- I thought of Hemingway's story "Soldier's Home" that dealt with the numbness of the surviving veteran once World War I was over. But this man's war was not over, men he knew were still dying in it, yet no one at home seemed aware.
He spoke of an inevitable conversation with that sweetheart, who had married and had a baby while he was away, and having a WW II veteran he thought he could talk to sourly say "maybe a few of my old buddies and I ought to go over there and win it for you" and of getting drunk enough to pick out the biggest guy in the bar and getting right in his face "until all he could do was unload the best one he had, and it was a good one, let me tell you" and then getting out of jail.
He spoke of having gotten married to a girl whose fiance had been killed over there, and then after he'd had that fight having a son (whose blood-covered birth-cries thrust him straight back to Nam), and realizing that none of it was working, that group-therapy with other guys back from that war helped, but only helped.
And he spoke, finally, of going to The Wall, of touching names with his fingers and realizing that he, too, had been killed in that Vietnam War, and coming out of it feeling a little stronger, a little less alone.
I may have remembered it badly. I only heard it once, you see. But I thought I'd try to give you some rough idea of what " don't mean nothin' " was like, in case you didn't get to hear it. Because, when it's over, if you didn't get to hear it a radioplay is gone forever.
Maybe WBUR will play it again. Maybe, if the people who heard it say they were moved by it, they'll find some other plays almost as good that they could broadcast. I know Bruce Gellerman, who works for the station --- "my" radio station --- likes the idea of radio theater, and I think " don't mean nothin' " got on the air because he fought for it. So I'll put all the information about how to talk to the people at the station at the end of this review. If you heard it and you'd like them to play it again, you can ask them. And if you didn't hear it, but want to, you can say that too. As I said, I grew up with radio theater, and I'd like to hear more of it.
Subject: Re: Old familiar voice...
Date: Thu, 21 May 1998 10:35:41 -0400 (EDT)
From: "BRUCE GELLERMAN" [ BRUCE.GELLERMAN@WBUR.BU.EDU ]
Organization: WBUR Radio, Boston
To: "Larry Stark's Theater Mirror" email@example.com
the play 'don't mean nothin' came in over the transome...i love radio dramas and decided this was a good thing for us to air.
hope you like it..oh, it's monday at 8pm..
hope you're well..
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