War. Though the majority of us could do without it, it is an inescapable reality in the world today. But without the brave heroes who have sacrificed their safety and in many cases their lives to protect us, the lives we lead would be much different.
In honor of Veterans Day, the American Place Theatre’s Literature to Life presented The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien this past Friday at the Lakewood Cultural Center. Set during the height of the Vietnam War, the 60-minute verbatim performance featured five short stories from O’Brien’s novel.
With limited props and costume, not to mention the lone actor (Billy Lyons) that performed, the emphasis of the presentation was definitely on the contents of O’Brien’s novel. In fact, the American Place Theatre’s Literature of Life program does this intentionally, as they want the audience to be as engaged as possible, filling in the gaps that extensive prop and costume would provide with their imagination.
Accompanied by double bassist Mark Diamond, The Things They Carried begins with O’Brien (Lyons) receiving his draft letter only a month after he has graduated from college. As a 21-year-old, the war seems wrong to him, but with the reality of the situation now staring him in the face, he must make the decision to either become a soldier or flee.
As time wears on, O’Brien (Lyons) begins seriously thinking about fleeing to Canada. It would be a quick trip, as he lives in Minnesota and the border is only hours away. One day, something inside O’Brien snaps and after leaving a vague letter for his parents he makes his way along the Rainy River (separating Minnesota from Canada) and ends up spending a week at the Tip Top Lodge with an old man. He can see Canada across the river, but his conscience gets the better of him and he decides to accept his fate.
He is a soldier now. Delving into the horrors of war, O’Brien (Lyons) describes what life was like for a soldier in Vietnam. Mosquito-infested and humid, his platoon is constantly on watch. One night, when it is his turn to stand guard, he notices an enemy soldier approaching and makes the decision to throw a grenade, killing the man. After describing the injuries inflicted upon the man, O’Brien (Lyons) reflects on the man’s short life. But he’s snapped back into reality as his platoon buddies praise him for his actions.
The threat of death becomes all the more real when O’Brien (Lyons) witnesses a member of his platoon die. One of his other buddies is so shaken up by the event that he shoots at a baby water buffalo repeatedly, watching on as the animal dies slowly.
As a riveting and melancholic performance, the American Place Theatre’s Literature of Life presentation of The Things They Carried serves as a reminder of the countless men and women who have risked and lost their lives in the name of our country and who continue to do so today.
Jessica Kleinman is an art and culture intern/writer for 303 Magazine. She is currently studying journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her posts on Twitter.