Thirty years after its Los Angeles debut, writer John DiFusco's antiwar drama retains its relevance and power. Written collaboratively in the 1970s by DiFusco and seven other Vietnam vets, and directed by Christina Howard with insight and skill, it portrays the trauma of young military recruits plucked from mainstream American life and thust inadequately trained and poorly equipped into the nightmare of combat. Howard, displaying a metaphysical perspective, stages the production on a deep, cavernous proscenium. Prior to curtain, an intense, almost suffocating, scent of incense permeates the theater; meanwhile, for perhaps 20 minutes, the six "trainees" jog in military unison, the rhythms of their booted tread being ominous and haunting. When at last the performers do, individually, speak, it's in a darkness resourcefully illuminated by handheld flashlights; indeed, throughout the play, the lighting design (consultant Tiger Reel) registers as a quintessential element of the spectacle. The talents of Howard's adept ensemble collectively emerge in a sequence depicting the recruits' initial training under the command of an abusive drill sergeant (the terrific Tucker Smallwood), who addresses them as "maggots" while forcing them to undergo arbitrary punitive discipline. Once in Vietnam, the men medicate their brutalized psyches with dope, alcohol and infantile horseplay understandable given their tasks, which include sorting through body parts to try to match limbs with torsos. While not every component of this production is unimpeachable the sound design (Howard) and vocal sound track, effective in part, can be intrusive the imaginative production is compelling. Loft Ensemble at L.A. Fringe Theatre, 929 E. Second St., Studio 105, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through June 27, LOFTensemble.com. (213) 680-0392.
Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Starts: May 29. Continues through June 27, 2010