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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 14, 2005

Beautiful streamer, open for me

Can soldiers' humanity keep them from colliding with each other?

The United States is at war.

It has been since shortly after September 11, 2001. In a retaliatory strike, after negotiations to have Osama bin Laden extradited from Afghanistan failed, the military went in and toppled the Taliban, the religious junta controlling the country.

The Pentagon issued stop-loss orders for the duration: Nobody was to be discharged from the military as long as martial readiness was a prime concern.

There was one exception to each branch�s stop-loss order. Soldiers, sailors and airmen could still be discharged for violating the military�s de facto ban on gay personnel, �don�t ask, don�t tell.�

Twenty-five years earlier, the United States military was involved in another war, although it was termed a �conflict,� a �police action.� American soldiers were being sent to the jungles and marshes of Vietnam, and there was a draft in force, forcing young men by the hundreds of thousands into the military.

In the days of the draft, the government would take gay soldiers, as long as they were needed. Once they were shipped home, intact or not, then it was time for them to be discharged.

It was also the latter days of the civil rights movement. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was still alive, although Malcolm X had already been killed. African Americans were struggling for the equality promised them by the Constitution, a battle waged on buses and in diners across the country for the hearts and minds of the nation.

Draftees, gay and straight, black and white, educated and ignorant, liberal and conservative were all shunted into the same system, into the same barracks, and tensions were inevitable.

This is the world of David Rabe�s play Streamers, being produced by the Know Theater Tribe through January 29 at Gabriel�s Corner in Cincinnati.

Rabe was drafted in 1965 and spent 1966 in �Nam. When he returned, he saw that most people back home did not realize how horrible the war was, and set about enlightening the masses.

He wrote Streamers in 1973; it was first produced three years later. The title refers to a parachute that doesn�t open, a long fluttering strip of cloth trailing the paratrooper down to his grisly demise.

�Beautiful streamer, open for me, the sky is above me, but no canopy,� is the superstitious song in the play.

However, the conflict in the play is not between man and gravity, it is between gay and straight, black and white. The conflict is between the noble reason of man and the inherent violence that has characterized the species.

Are Richie and Billy natural allies because both are white, or will they be in opposition because Richie is gay and Chris is straight?

Because Rooney and Roger are black, will they be in conflict with the white men, or is there a deeper connection that can be made?

�I�m a 24-year-old goddamn college graduate--intellectual goddamn scholar type--and I got a razor in my hand,� says Billy, the straight white liberal. �I�m thinkin� about comin� up behind one black human being and I�m thinkin� nigger this and nigger that--I wanna cut his throat.�

�No one can argue the similarities between 2005 and 1968,� director Jason Bruffy noted. �From war to social politics and civil rights, Rabe�s Streamers speaks as much to today�s issues as those of �68. I can think of no other play that speaks so highly to our mission, dealing with race and sexual orientation in the context of the looming build-up of U.S. troops overseas.�

There is intimacy in the play, intimacy between men, bordering on love. Unfortunately, love is easily turned to hate, and love can lead to lethal violence. When the conflict erupts in Streamers, the only question is, who will be left standing?

�We�re bringing Streamers to Cincinnati because we have yet to find political peace,� producer Jay Kalayagan said. �Whether it be the war, the huge inequality of the races, or the new Ohio amendment redefining marriage--we have a long was to go.�

Streamers, the Know Theater Tribe�s 50th production, plays on Fridays and Saturdays through the end of the month at 8 pm at Gabriel�s Corner, 1524 Sycamore Street at Liberty. There will also be a performance on Thursday, January 27, along with talk-backs with the cast after the January 14 and 21 shows.

Tickets are $15, $12 for students and seniors. For more information on Know Theater Tribe or Streamers, call 513-300-5669 or log onto www.knowtheater.com.

 

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