Waiting on Sean Flynn is a two-act drama about the reporters who serve as our eyes and ears when America is at war, about their ambitions and weaknesses, and about the personal price they pay as witnesses to—and sometimes participants in—the savage violence that lies behind daily headlines and wire photos.
Not Just Another Story
The war examined is Vietnam, chosen not only for its tremendous impact on American society but also because of its moral ambiguity and that it was the last U.S. war in which reporters were allowed relatively free access to cover the story. The principal action of the play is set at the war’s arguably most dramatic moment—the 1975 fall of Saigon, where U.S. policies came to their ultimate fruition.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
On the eve of the city’s fall, three reporters with very different agendas meet at the rooftop bar of Saigon’s Caravelle Hotel, where they have a commanding view of the fighting that surrounds the besieged city:
- Tom, a print journalist who has been grievously wounded while covering the war, has returned to Saigon in a last attempt to learn the fate of a missing colleague who saved his life, photojournalist Sean Flynn, who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970.
- Keef, a high-strung and burned out photographer, seeks to lay his harrowing Vietnam experience to rest and flee with American civilian and military personnel in the morning.
- But the play centers on Lee, a tough, seasoned radio reporter who has been in Vietnam almost since the beginning of U.S. involvement. She has adopted Vietnam as her home, and cannot decide whether to flee for her safety or remain as a witness to history, even at the risk of her life.
Tom wants her to stay, Keef wants her to go, and from this conflict, which escalates as dawn approaches, emerges a psychological tug-of-war that mirrors America’s own ambivalence over its involvement in an intractable war, its causes and prosecution blurred by propaganda.
Time Has Come Today
Interspersed with this forward narrative are flashbacks that track Lee’s wartime experience, each one taking us farther back in time, through firefights, atrocities, and her neophyte introduction to the horror and complexity of a war of unrelenting violence, fought without borders and where every civilian could be the enemy.
And accompanying Lee on each step of her journey has been Sean Flynn, a privileged son of movie star Errol Flynn, who has found in the war’s rawness and immediacy a zenlike understanding of the mutability of experience and perception, and has in fact discovered a difficult kind of peace, journeying so deep into the conflict in search of its truth that the war has swallowed him, and he has disappeared.
Some Parts May Be True
Meticulously researched and vetted for accuracy by Vietnam correspondents and veterans, including some who knew Flynn well, Waiting on Sean Flynn requires a single, flexible set. The cast of six principals includes two women and four men. One woman and one man are Asian; Sean Flynn is Caucasian; otherwise, color-blind casting is applicable. Additional soldier characters may be added at the director’s discretion.
- June 2008, Neanderthal Acting Company, Detroit, MI; full-production; two-week run.
- April 2001, Jobsite Theatre at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa Bay, Florida; full production, three-week run.
- September-October 1997, Stark Raving Theatre, Portland, Oregon; full production, four-week run.
- April-June 1996, T.A.N.S.T.A.A.F.L. Productions and Close Call Productions in cooperation of the Chicago Vietnam War Museum at Chicago’s Dramatists Workshop, Chicago, Illinois; full production, six-week run. November
- 1995, T.A.N.S.T.A.A.F.L. Productions at Chicago’s Dramatists Workshop, Chicago, Illinois; staged reading.
- May 1995, Organic Theatre, Chicago, Illinois; staged reading.
- June-July 1994, Stark Raving Theatre, Portland, Oregon; staged reading, four-week run.
- Willamette Week, 1994: ‘…dark, wounded, obsessive…the thoughtful, complex show works well…’
- Willamette Week, 1997:’ ‘Patterson has captured this moment completely. His characters are of bone and blood, and his writing is assured and potent. He masterfully marshals the slang of grunts and hacks, which brings great authenticity to this tale.’
- Portland Oregonian, 1997: ‘Patterson’s drama effectively captures the atmosphere of Vietnam on the eve of the fall of Saigon…the subculture it explores is well-defined and on the money.’
- Portland Vanguard: ‘Patterson’s writing is intense, sharp, and witty; the characters seem very realistic…. Waiting on Sean Flynn is an excellent play, not just for theater connoisseurs but for anyone interested in the tension that is created by a brilliantly written piece.’