Many of David Rabe’s strongest works are closely linked thematically to the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in America. He expresses this turbulent era of the debilitating war in Vietnam, racial strife in the streets, the horrific murders by Charles Manson’s clan, the puzzling generation gap, and the confusing sexual revolution as a dramatic world of violent confrontation. For the individual living in this setting, its most salient features are racial and sexual turmoil, family disintegration, social isolation, and personal inarticulateness. Whether the scene is an army barracks room, a middle-class American home, the ancient Greece of Aeschylus’s Oresteia (458 b.c.e.; English translation, 1777), or a slimy bar in Philadelphia, Rabe’s characters live on a metaphoric battlefield. His plays, then, are war plays, and his protagonists lose their separate struggles with dispiriting inevitability. The chaos of their lives is figured, institutionalized, and sometimes justified by ritualistic activities that are symbolic of their alienation and lack of choice rather than of the communal experience and support that ritual ordinarily celebrates.
The Vietnam Plays
Rabe’s intense, critical reflections on the interrelatedness of war, sex, racism, the family, past, and present as they define the contemporary American battlefield are frequently provocative. His dramatic world of streamers is, however,...
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