'The Trial of the Catonsville Nine'
Reliving the Vietnam Era
Catonsville Nine had some real good things to it; the play had some disturbing things, and some elements that did not belong. The play is put forth by the Transport Group at the Abrons Arts Center. The play takes place on the stage with the audience in the round. A small, intimate setting, the audience can view the desks that hold Life Magazine's pictures of the war. The desks also hold what look like bomb devises, a record player and file cabinets.
The play has three actors who play many roles, the nine people who burst into the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland in May of 1968; the burn 368 1A draft records. These 368 people are next in line to go to Vietnam. The nine use napalm to burn the records, they want to use the same thing to destroy the records as the chemical weapon that is destroying Vietnam.
The sound and lighting are very good. R. Lee Kennedy does a great job affecting the mood in this play. Lights go from romantic to industrial, and occasionally, the use of glam. Fan Zhang uses the sound design to bring us back to the war. The helicopters overhead, the music is somewhere between Apocalypse Now and Platoon. Both set the mood for this play that is very deep and dark.
Daniel Berrigan (Playwright) was a Jesuit priest, as well as a poet, political activist. In his life he was a convicted felon, Nobel Peace Prize nominee as well an award- winning writer. He published many books, journals, essays and scripture studies, and was rrested over 200 times in nonviolent protests against war, injustice and nuclear weapons. Berrigan had hoped that one day all conflicts could be dealt with in peace and that the world would live in peace.
The Trial of The Catonsville Nine is a well premised story. What is unclear here, however, is that Berrigan goes off on several tangents about different things. If he just stayed on the subject of Vietnam, the play would have been more effective.It is unclear why he delves off to talk about Guatemala, Latin America, and Africa. Also unclear, is that Berrigan at some points writes that the Catholic Church is against this violence, and at others he tells the audience that they were complicit in the war.
What was troubling to me is that Berrigan makes it seem like the North Vietnamese were good guys and the South Vietnamese and the United States were the bad guys. I think from the history that I learned, Mr. Berrigan is a little mis informed. Maybe Berrigan should have looked at the torture camps of the North. It almost seemed during this play that Berrigan hated being American. He brings in police brutality and he mentions his involvement in the Society of Saint Joseph, (the service of black men). All of this was not needed in a play about Vietnam.
Jack Cummings III did a fantastic job directing this play. He kept all three actors moving nicely throughout this performance. We never get lost with these three good actors playing multiple roles. The three interact beautifully with Cummings bold direction. The three actors are in full control of the emotions that go with this touchy subject during this dark period of American history.
What is most memorable about the evenings performance were the lights going full blast, the reading of the guilty verdicts of the nine people who raided the draft board. We are read what happened to these people after they served their sentences. As an audience, we are given finality to these nine people; the war itself has a finality to it.
Catonsville would have been a much better play if we did not hear so much about Ronald Brazzi, the boy who burnt himself to death in Syracuse, or police brutality. Berrigan would have done this play better service if he talked about his memory serving in World War II, or how LBJ escalated this war, or how LBJ had an iron/ore business in Vietnam and how LBJ personally profited from it, rather than going off about Guatemala, or Africa.
About the author
I have been writing on theater since 1982. A graduate from Manhattan College B.S. A member of Alpha Sigma Lambda, which recognizes excellence in both English and Science. I have produced 12 shows on and off Broadway. I've seen over700 shows