Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion
written & co-directed by Terry Jastrow
co-directed by Michelle Danner
Edgemar Center for the Arts, Santa Monica
through December 4
Like it or not, Jane Fonda, as political activist, helped stop the Viet Nam War. Whether she thwarted our winning is of a lesser priority than her goal to stop the killing. Many vets remain purists and hate the fact that her intervention that led to her nickname 'Hanoi Jane' made thEm Look bad, when they were there to fight and believed in what they had been trained to do. Before Fonda and Robert DeNiro were to start filming Stanley and Iris in Connecticut in 1988, 13 years after the war ended, a contingent of veterans opposed her working there. Upholding her rights, Fonda met with them for what turned out to be an embittered discussion at an Episcopal Church in Waterbury on June 18 of that year. With fictional dialogue by Terry Jastrow and backed by actual screen footage of Fonda and news coverage of the period, Jastrow's play Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion becomes riveting drama at The Edgemar Center for the Arts. Riveting due to tight direction from Terry Jastrow, his script that presents both sides of the argument evenly... and a dynamite ensemble of actors led by Anne Archer as Fonda.
Rather than copy Fonda - an impossible task - Archer lets her own stunning integrity work for her. Although she spent hours listening to Fonda on tape to perfect the vocal inflections and cadences, her own conviction suffices to put the message out there for all to hear and mull over. The rest of the cast are equally outstanding. They include Steve Voldseth as Rev John, Don Swayze as Don Simpson, who despite the loss of a leg, believes in moving on, Ben Shields, James Giordano, Robert Foster, Terrence Beasor, Mark Gadbois, and Jonathan Kells Phillips, who proves that in spite of intelligence, a soldier is a soldier and winning, the top priority. Chauntae Pink completes the great ensemble as a TV reporter.
Effective set by Chris Stone makes one feel claustrophobic, so that in the heat of the argument it's unbearable, with no where to hide, either stay and face facts or get out. Jastrow makes terrific use of the video screen by interspersing with his dialogue actual news broadcasts and videos of Fonda in action. This makes it all seem so much more real.
In the final analysis, the play asks that you decide. Anyone who has lived through this period in history and walks away from the play without measuring the waste of money and time the war entailed, and without thinking how needless it was that millions of lives were lost on both sides is like the soldiers who went blindly into combat convinced that by killing the enemy they were making America a better country. It wasn't their fault, they just accepted and trusted without questioning. Fonda questioned. Yes, she made mistakes, but has more than atoned since then. Personally, I lived through the era, came close to being drafted, but fortunately was not called. If I had been, I probably would have gone without objection. But not because I wanted to. I'm on the side of those who stand up and fight for what is right. I wish I had had the balls one vet accuses Fonda of having. Now fears are fewer and I value apologies and believe in moving forward in peaceful harmony, without malice. I can stand apart, forgive the compulsive means and appreciate the end, the bigger picture, that much better.
Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion is thought-provoking theatre that makes us think about past mistakes. Jane Fonda, in spite of her flaws, stuck her neck out. She cared...Sadly, now, when we need a hero/heroine the most, who is her equal?...