Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Streamers was generally regarded as the last and best of a trilogy of plays by David Rabe about the Vietnam War, though the author denied any such intention. The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (pr. 1971, pb. 1973), which earned for Rabe an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award, and a Drama Guild Award in 1971, presents a surrealistic picture of a soldier’s life. Shifting between time periods, realism and fantasy, civilian and military life, this dark play shows an innocent, good-natured young soldier who becomes a crude, bitter, nasty veteran before dying pointlessly from a grenade thrown into a bar where he is drinking. The military is seen as an entity entirely separate from civilian experience and the Vietnam War as a meaningless horror.

Although the play’s form is unrealistic, its contents are seen in almost reportorial balance: None of the experiences is admirable, but no side is seen to be the more virtuous. Rabe’s next play, clearly related, was performed at New York’s Public Theatre while The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel was still playing there, before it moved to a Broadway theater. Sticks and Bones (pr. 1969, pb. 1972), which won for Rabe honors from the Drama Guild and Variety Critics Poll, an Outer Circle Critics Award, and a Tony Award, is an ugly satire about a Vietnam veteran’s return to an unaccepting, horrified family. The caricatured members of the family have the same names as the Nelson family of the television show Ozzie and Harriet. Using this image of stereotypical, sentimentalized American life, Rabe presents an embittered,...

(The entire section is 662 words.)