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Phillip L. Fradkin Review

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A Dream in Hanoi ________________________________________________________________________________
By Phillip L. Fradkin, Author and Former Vietnam War Correspondent ________________________________________________________________________________

I have always thought the novels that I have read and the films I have seen about the Vietnam War were somewhat deceptive, if not outright fraudulent. When I was a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, the figure that I recall being quoted as the number of servicemen seeing combat was either one out of nine or one out of eleven. I thought that number, whichever it was, fit what I observed. There were a lot of support troops.

Now, a novel or a film about a mechanic, a public relations officer, a cook, or radio repairman does not have a lot of inherent drama, although a manic radio announcer, played by Robin Williams, sure caught my attention in “Good Morning Vietnam.” Two films have successfully portrayed the underlying cultural differences in that conflict. I thought that those differences, which I personally and professionally experienced, accounted more for our losing effort than all the herbicides dumped on the impenetrable jungle.

The first was The Year of Living Dangerously, which was about an Australian radio reporter's vain efforts to understand what was happening in Indonesia under the Sukarno regime. When I saw that film in the late 1970s, I immediately thought that the Mel Gibson character who successfully wooed a gorgeous Sigourney Weaver but couldn't penetrate the Asian culture was representative of the government of the United States and its citizens, regardless of their position on the war.

The second film, A Dream In Hanoi, will be shown Friday (May 24) at 8 p.m. in the Dance Palace [in Point Reyes Station, Caliornia. This new film goes one important step further: it shows the cultural misunderstandings on both sides. It is also different because there is a resolution that will make you cry with joy, and it is the first American documentary that does not focus on the war.

Briefly, the Artists Repertory Theater of Portland, Oregon, travels to Hanoi to stage a joint production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Nights Dream with the Central Dramatic Company of Hanoi. The arena for the differences is Shakespeare; and the weapons are words, gestures, and feelings behind which hide history in the form of colonialism, war, and culture. For anyone who can't understand the other, whether a person or a country, there is an important lesson to be learned here. I believe it may be tolerance gained through peaceful disagreements.