The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Streamers is set in an army barracks somewhere in the United States. The three young soldiers who occupy it have finished training and are awaiting orders, which they fear will send them to the war in Vietnam. Richie jokes about his homosexuality and makes teasing advances toward Billy. Billy and Roger try to behave like “good soldiers”: They relieve stress by cleaning their area to make it “stand tall” and by dropping to the floor to do push-ups. Occasionally they lapse into half-believed horror stories about Vietnam.

The play opens with Richie trying to comfort Martin, a young soldier who has slit one of his wrists in an unconvincing suicide attempt. They are interrupted by Carlyle, a black soldier who has heard that another black man is quartered there. Wary and suspicious, Carlyle soon leaves, and Billy enters and tries to examine Martin’s bloody-towel-wrapped wrist but is prevented by Richie. Later Martin is discharged from the army.

Later, Carlyle’s friendly approach to Roger has an uncomfortable undertone: “C’mon. C’mon. I think you a Tom you don’t drink outa my bottle.” He bursts into a frantic admission of his fear of being sent to Vietnam, his hatred of army life, his feelings of being an outsider. Carlyle is still assigned to the processing company, which has no special mission and requires a disproportionate amount of menial work, such as daily kitchen duty. Roger refuses Carlyle’s invitation to go out drinking.

Later in act 1, annoyed by Richie’s flirtatious insinuations, Billy angrily tells him to stop or be ostracized. They have mentioned an alcoholic old sergeant named Rooney, a career soldier since World War II, who has just received orders to go to Vietnam. Now Rooney makes a boisterous, intoxicated entrance, introducing an old pal, Sergeant Cokes, a decorated Vietnam veteran whom he is delighted to have found newly assigned to the base. Cokes is fearful because he has been told that he has leukemia.

Cokes tells a story of trapping a Korean enemy in a “spider hole.” Cokes threw a grenade into the hole, sat on its lid, and heard him screaming and struggling to get out until the grenade exploded. “He was probably singin’ it,” Rooney says. Explaining that “this is what a man sings, he’s goin’ down through the air, his chute don’t open,” the two former airborne soldiers sing about a parachute, or “beautiful streamer,” which does not open, plunging the parachutist to a death he is able to anticipate.

After the sergeants leave and turn out the lights, Billy explains from his bed that he had a buddy, Frankie, with whom he teased “queers” into buying them drinks, until one night Frankie went home with one of the men. Later, Frankie dropped his girlfriend and became a “faggot.” Carlyle enters drunk and disturbed and passes out on their floor. Richie covers him and pats his arm, to the expressed annoyance of Billy. The lights dim as taps is played.

Act 2 begins in the late afternoon as Roger talks the restless Billy into going to the gym to work out. Richie lies down to read, and Carlyle enters seeking Roger. Richie closes the door and offers Carlyle a cigarette. Carlyle, unsure of what signals he...

(The entire section is 1324 words.)