San Francisco Fringe 2017
“David Kleinberg returns to Vietnam for the first time in 50 years to revisit the base camp where his buddies died and to perform his acclaimed solo theater work on the Vietnam war, Hey, Hey, LBJ! But David’s wife, daughter and his ex-Vietnam buddies all tell him he’s going to get arrested for trying to stage the work without the government’s permission.”
Imagine returning to a place you once knew….many years ago…during a war…to Saigon. David Kleinberg did just that and what he found there was surprising to him. In this sequel to Hey, Hey, LBJ, his very successful show at last year’s SF Fringe festival, Kleinberg’s new show, Return to the Scene of the Crime is about his return to Vietnam.
Kleinberg is the real deal, he has a story to tell, well several, actually, and his latest show is well worth seeing. First of all, his background as a writer and war correspondent is fascinating. Second, he has an interesting take on the war, given his job reporting on the events. Finally, he has become a performer, writing and developing one-person shows. His latest shows, Hey, Hey, LBJ and the new Return to the Scene of the Crime are more than just shows, they are his way of sharing his experiences and the cultural differences of important human events – for he is passionate about the significant subject and the impact on lives and how they are affected or changed as a result.
Surrounded by six easels with large black cards, Kleinberg strides on stage. He wears a t-shirt with “Good morning Vietnam!” on the front, and speaks directly to the audience. He is personable, authentic and steadfast as he describes his return to Ho Chi Minh City and the streets of Saigon. He exclaims that he sees high-end stores and fast food chains “in this communist country”, as well as rice fields. No doubt things have changed, they always do, but Kleinberg is seeking one thing and finds another in his sojourn. He is on a mission, a personal one.
In fact, the main reason for his return to Vietnam is to perform his first show Hey, Hey, LBJ there. In order to do this he needs a venue to perform at and he contacts people he knows there to help him set it up.
Kleinberg is sincere in his delivery, uses humor and sprinkles names of past media luminaries – such as Walter Cronkite – here and there. He is a good performer, and he uses gestures effectively to act out short moments like making cell phone calls, switching characters and conversations fluidly. Lighting and sound add to the visual storytelling by evoking places like a nightclub with loud music. A snippet of Simon and Garfunkel’s music plays hauntingly at one point, which can’t fail to add to the atmosphere. Kleinberg incorporates several impactful photographs – and jokes about the traffic in the Bay Area vs. that of Saigon. He describes what he finds in a relatable way, sometimes with rich imagery and always with passion. His self-effacing humor has its own charm and there are some stark, moving moments.
In case you were not around during this time, this is an opportunity to see this show – it will be a fascinating and entertaining insight into this era, especially how local perceptions and controversies may or may not have changed since then and how life is in the present in this foreign country.
Return to the Scene of the Crime is looser than the taut Hey, Hey, LBJ – and Kleinberg has found a wonderful way to weave a lot of information into a dynamic, poignant and entertaining show with complex emotions and layers of meaning. It’s an emotive and transporting show that should not be missed!