I grew up at an odd time, too young to genuinely be a boomer, too old for Gen X. I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, but it’s an early, hazy memory. The Vietnam War seemed one long nightly newscast of gory firefights and violent protests. The draft ended just about the time I began to worry about it. And, just as I began to develop a political consciousness, Saigon fell; as helicopters dropped from aircraft carrier decks, jerking like wounded insects, I knew history unfolded before me: the forever intersection between before and after.
The trio of late 70s films seriously addressing the war: Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, and, especially, Apocalypse Now, seemed Rosetta Stones to jumbled, disconnected images, as did Michael Herr’s brilliant Vietnam War memoir, Dispatches. For a time, the war obsessed me. I couldn’t stop looking, even if, at times, what I saw horrified me.
Finding one’s way into stories takes time, and I’m not sure what during the early 90s renewed my interest in the war. Maybe Bill Clinton’s election–the first Vietnam-era president–brought back those helicopters. But I began to read about the war again. Voraciously. Watched the films again. A play didn’t present itself until I began to dig into those final days from April 1975, when after began.
Whenever you read history, particularly about traumatic events, you wonder what you would have done had you been there, and when I read that Peter Arnett was one of the few reporters who stayed in Saigon after the fall, risking his life to witness history, I asked myself (as a former journalist) what choice I would have made. I’ve never found an answer, but suddenly I had a play to write.