More than 58,000 names are etched into the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Each name represents an American soldier killed in the Vietnam War between 1959 and 1975. That’s 16 years spent on a war that eventually divided the country and left so many young lives stopped in their prime.Thirty years later, just 10 months into our current war, there are already more than 500 lost soldiers’ names waiting to be etched into a future Iraq-war memorial. The numbers increase every single day, as do the controversies.
The country’s division over the Vietnam War is touched upon in City Theatre’s production of Walls, but the subsequent battle over the memorial is the central theme of the play. Playwright Jeannie Barroga explores the ways in which the memorial’s concept and design (as well as the selection of young Asian designer Maya Ying Lin) divided the country one more time but, in the end, brought people back together again.
Rimming a bare black stage are notes, pictures and mementos left at the wall, though the actual wall isn’t physically represented. Family, friends, comrades, news reporters, nurses, lovers, sisters, brothers and the ghosts of young soldiers bring the names on the walls to life, along with the stories and people they left behind.
There are some good performances in this mostly student cast. Others aren’t highly polished, but they are raw, spirited and heartfelt. The young age of most of the performers also is a harsh reminder of just how young the soldiers were who fought in the war and gave up their lives. Walls is a thought-provoking and memorable piece.