The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater will present David Rabe’s Vietnam era drama The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel on January 8, 9 and 10 at 8:00 p.m. in the Marie and Edward Matthews ‘53 Acting Studio at 185 Nassau Street. Directed by Tim Vasen, the Director of the Program in Theater, and featuring theater program seniors Patrick Rounds and Blake Edwards, the play examines the Vietnam War and the experience of basic training through the eyes of young soldier Pavlo Hummel.
Through a continuous stream of scenes that move back and forth in time, Hummel’s difficulties with his sergeants and fellow recruits are brought to life. As a young, emotionally stunted draftee who has trouble fitting in, Hummel stumbles through boot camp and then faces the horrors of war when he is sent to Vietnam.
Written in 1971, the play is recognized as among the earliest American dramas to deal with the experience of the Vietnam War. Playwright Rabe served in Vietnam and drew from his experience in writing this play along with two other plays often referred to as his “Vietnam trilogy,” which are full of dark humor and stark images. In writing these plays, based on a journal he kept during the war, he found that his experience there defied description, exceeding the capabilities of “language as mere symbol” and describing his war experience as a “surreal carnival of death.”
The play was first produced in 1971 at the Public Theatre by Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival and was a success, garnering an Obie Award and a Drama Desk Award for Rabe. The play had a popular run on Broadway in 1977 starring Al Pacino in the title role.
Rounds and Edwards proposed the production of The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel for their senior thesis project in theater. Rounds comes from a military family with roots in Minnesota. His father retired two years ago from the Army. Rounds participated in theater throughout his middle school and high school years and was considering both Princeton and West Point for college. “At West Point I would have had to leave theater behind,” he notes. “At Princeton theater has become a defining experience for me, led to many of the friendships I’ve formed here, and provided a community I identify with.” In addition to pursuing a certificate in theater, Rounds is majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton.
Rounds’ interests in the armed forces and theater come together in Rabe’s play. “The play isn’t anti-war, but goes deeper, examining the influences of humanity” explains Rounds. Despite the play being very specific to its time and place, he felt the work would resonate with his peers as relevant in the way in which it puts issues into perspective. “All of these characters are our age, or at least around it” notes Rounds. “And they’re dealing too with complex ethical decisions and confronting their own mortality.”
In addition to diverse roles in Lewis Center productions, Rounds has performed with Princeton Summer Theater, Triangle Club, Theatre Intime, and Princeton University Players.
Rounds’ interests post-graduation include public policy advising, as well as the rich and diverse theater community in the Philadelphia region, where his family is currently based.
Edwards was drawn to the play both as an actor and a psychology major with an interest in post-traumatic stress syndrome. He plays the role of Tower, a drill sergeant and one of Hummel’s antagonizers. Edwards’ interest in acting is recent. He played football for Princeton in his freshmen year, but turned to theater after taking his first acting class. He has since taken multiple courses in acting, performance and playwriting, and has appeared in several Lewis Center productions, including this season’s production of Red Noses, and with Theater Intime and Princeton Shakespeare Company.
The Pasadena, California, native plans to return to the Los Angeles area after graduation to pursue an acting career in film and television with potential plans to apply for M.F.A. programs in theater.
Both actors have found the rehearsal process a bonding experience as the ensemble cast of 13 learned about army life, military exercises, and discussed the challenging questions the play raises.
Vasen has been a member of the theater faculty since 1993. He directed the 2006 world premiere at Princeton of the unfinished Prokofiev/Meyerhold production of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, featuring nearly 100 undergraduate performers. He also directed Princeton’s world premiere of Pushkin’s rediscovered Eugene Onegin, an originally Soviet-banned version, written by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky with music by Prokofiev. His other Princeton projects include Playboy of the Western World, Waiting for Godot, Danton’s Death and The Misanthrope. His professional directing credits include a five-year stint as Resident Director of Center Stage in Baltimore, where he directed a variety of new plays and classics, as well as productions and workshops in theaters across the country, including The Children’s Theater Company, South Coast Repertory, Philadelphia Theatre Company, and Playwrights Horizons.
Rabe’s most well-known dramatic works are In the Boom Boom Room (1973), about the humiliation and exploitation of a female go-go dancer, and Hurlyburly (1984), a bitter comedy about the Hollywood entertainment industry. His other works include the plays The Orphan, The Crossing, and Goose and Tomtom. In addition to adapting several of his own works to film Rabe has written screenplays for the films I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can, Casualties of War, and others.
The all-student cast also features Frank Africano ’16, Charlie Baker ’17, Ross Barron ’17, Evan Coles ’15, Adam Hudnut-Beumler ’17, Stanley Mathabane ’17, Laura Ong ’17, and Luke Pfleger ’17. Costumes are being designed by Erin Valentine ’16 and lighting by Sydney Becker ’17 with both collaborating on set design. Tyler Lawrence ’16 serves as stage manager.
A talk-back discussion following the January 9 performance will be led by Vasen and provide an opportunity for the audience to ask questions about the production.
Tickets for The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel are $12 general admission, $10 for students and seniors, and are available through Princeton University Ticketing by calling 609.258.9220 or at the Frist Campus Center Ticket Office, and at the door prior to each performance.
The Lewis Center’s Program in Theater annually presents a major, professionally produced play, as well as a number of student senior thesis productions throughout the year. Other productions this season will include a unique adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story, “The Diary of a Madman,” MADMAN/Robertson; the colorful children’s play The Magic Rainforest: An Amazon Journey by José Cruz González; the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening; Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama How I Learned to Drive; a new “experiential” musical; and a new play and a new work incorporating aerial choreography, both also related to the Vietnam era.