David Rabe was born on March 10, 1940, in Dubuque, Iowa, where he attended Roman Catholic parochial schools. He began to write short stories and plays while an undergraduate at Loras College, a Catholic institution in Dubuque, from which he was graduated in 1962 with a B.A. in English. He was drafted into the army in 1965 and served with a hospital support unit at Long Binh, South Vietnam. Although he did not go into actual combat himself, he observed many casualties. After his discharge in early 1967, he resumed his interrupted graduate studies at Villanova University and earned a master’s degree in 1968. While at Villanova, he wrote the draft scripts of The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Sticks and Bones, inspired by his experiences of Vietnam and then of the United States as encountered by a returned Vietnam veteran. Under the auspices of Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel opened in New York at the Public Theatre on May 20, 1971, with Sticks and Bones following, also at the Public Theatre, on November 7 of the same year. With these productions, Rabe was saluted by many critics as a most promising young dramatist.
Rabe’s third play, The Orphan, a puzzling retelling of the dramas of Aeschylus that made repeated allusions to Vietnam, was roundly criticized. With his fourth play, In the Boom Boom Room (originally produced in 1973 as Boom Boom Room and later revised and retitled), Rabe...
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David Rabe (rayb) is one of America’s most uncompromising dramatic commentators on the Vietnam War. The three major Rabe plays, sometimes referred to as “the Vietnam trilogy” (Sticks and Bones, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, and Streamers), are intense, compelling analyses of a society forever altered by a controversial war, of a generation that lost its innocence in battle.
David William Rabe was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on March 10, 1940, to William Rabe, a high school teacher who later became a meat packer, and his wife, Ruth McCormick Rabe, a department store employee. Educated at two Catholic schools in Dubuque—Loras Academy and Loras College, where he earned his B.A. degree in English in 1962—Rabe went on to graduate school at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, where he began work on a degree in theater. Two years in the U.S. Army, which included eleven months in Vietnam, interrupted Rabe’s graduate work; he resumed his studies upon his return from Vietnam, completing his master’s degree in 1968. The next year he married Elizabeth Pan. That marriage ended in divorce, and in 1979 Rabe married actress Jill Clayburgh.
Rabe’s tour of duty in Vietnam proved to be a major turning point in the future playwright’s life. Assigned to a hospital group, Rabe never actually experienced combat, although he witnessed the fighting at close range and observed the American troops both in and out of combat. It was the extreme youth and inexperience of these soldiers that made an impression on Rabe, who later described them as like kids “standing around some bar like teenagers at a soda fountain, talking coolly about how many of their guys got killed in the last battle.” Rabe’s first two plays were the result of his frustrating return to society after Vietnam. Both were written while he was in graduate school but not produced until they came to the attention of the influential Joseph Papp, director of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theatre.
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, which opened on May 21, 1971, ran for 363 performances at the Newman Theatre in 1971 and 1972 and earned for Rabe an Obie Award and a Drama Desk Award. Sticks and Bones was even more critically successful than The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, winning for Rabe the 1972 Tony Award, the Outer Circle Award, and a special...
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