Amlin Gray Frank Rich - Essay

Frank Rich

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Gray's harrowing black comedy about Vietnam, ["How I Got That Story," asks that one actor, called The Historical Event,]… play an entire war-torn society all by himself. Not only must the actor impersonate more than 20 characters—characters of 2 sexes, 2 nationalities and all social strata—but he also must provide the sounds of Vietnam's gunfire, its bombing runs, its incessant background rock music….

As we watch [this actor] define the essences of both societies, his everchanging face becomes an emblematic map of the cultural clash that was doomed to bring tragedy to them both…. "How I Got That Story" contains one additional character—a naïve reporter … who has come to Amboland (as the playwright fictionalizes his setting) to cover the war. In a series of pithy, ever-more-upsetting scenes, the reporter, like the audience, is constantly torn among the various Vietnams embodied by [the actor who plays The Historical Event]…. And, by the end, this forlorn pilgrim's progress becomes a paradigm of his country's own experience in those nightmarish years. Instead of winning his battle to cover the war, the reporter is destroyed by it—to the point that he loses both his innocence and his mind….

Mr. Gray has an uncommonly sharp ear for idiosyncratic speech—whether foul-mouthed G.I. slang, bargirl pidgin English or journalistic shoptalk—and many of his scenes make both chilling and funny use of language. In the best, he captures the missed connections as the reporter and his subjects carry on extended conversations in which neither party ever quite understands what the other is saying.

Frank Rich, "Theater: Gunton Back in 'How I Got That Story'," in The New York Times (copyright © 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 18, 1982, p. C15.