by Becca Jennings
Like their owners, objects carry stories. From functional tools to sentimental mementos, we assign the most value to the “stuff” of life that most represents, for each of us, what it means to be alive. Lined up together, these items tell the story of us.
In life’s most extreme moments, the choice of what to let go of and what to hold on to can have significant consequences. For the U.S. Vietnam soldier, this could mean a hand grenade, a lucky rabbit foot, or the haunting sounds of war that echo across decades.
In the regional premiere of The Things They Carried, a young man is thrust out of his quiet, low-key life in Minnesota, and must adapt to a new reality full of action and violence in the jungles of Vietnam. But what he carries into the jungle and what he carries home with him differ in ways he couldn’t have imagined.
The Things They Carried, based on the book by Tim O’Brien and adapted for stage by Jim Stowell, strings together silhouettes of soldiers’ stories inspired by O’Brien’s own personal experiences as a foot soldier in Vietnam from ‘68-70. From radios, morphine, and malaria tablets to dog tags, lucky rabbit feet, and fellow soldiers, the play is punctuated by a laundry list of items Vietnam soldiers carried with them either by necessity or superstition. This thematic thread is echoed in the play’s title, and inspires a tapestry of tales that unfold as the main character attempts to capture his experiences in a novel about the war.
With a simple set of a home office, and just one performer on stage, this minimalistic play becomes a blank canvas onto which the vivid sights, sounds, and smells of war can be projected by audience imaginations as the script leads them through a veteran’s haunted past and present. Like voyeurs, the audience watches our veteran scratch away at the memories, trying to excavate his story from the past to the page.
“The thing about a story is that you dream as you tell it,” writes O’Brien, “hoping that others might then dream with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. That’s what a story does. You make the dead talk.”
“This is the heart of this play – a true war story,” Director Kate Alexander said in response to O’Brien’s quote. “We can only approach this play through the heart. It’s a love story to the incredibly beautiful, young, brave men sent to Vietnam. It’s power lies in the love of all who were caught up in this terrible war – stories of its heartbreak, of glittering beauty, of the strength of forged bonds. It is all of our story. And Tim O’Brien shows us how to carry it.”
FST’s production of The Things They Carried, adapted for stage by Jim Stowell, based on the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, is directed by Associate Director At-Large Kate Alexander. The play stars FST alumnus David Sitler, who was most recently seen in last season’s production of The Exonerated.