The Play

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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 is getting, advances on Richie, asking him whether he wants to play with his “rope.” Attracted and repelled, Richie is finally insulted by Carlyle’s nasty manner and runs out. Carlyle lies on Richie’s bed. When Billy enters, Carlyle asks him if Richie is the only “punk” in the room and whether Richie “takes care of” Roger and Billy. Upset, Billy protests that...

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Richie is normal.

When Richie returns, hostile, Carlyle apologizes, indicates that he is simply looking for friendship, and saunters out. Billy is furious, more so when Richie asks whether his story about Frankie was really about himself. Roger enters and asks for a loan to join Carlyle to go drinking. He invites Richie, who declines; Roger then encourages Billy to go with him, quieting Billy’s fears about Carlyle. They leave Richie alone.

Scene 2 finds all four men lying about after taps. Richie tells of seeing his father walk out on the family when Richie was only six years old; Carlyle says that his father lived nearby but refused to acknowledge him. Richie flirts with Carlyle to annoy Billy, who refuses to leave the room or turn away, as Roger suggests, so that Richie can have sex with Carlyle. Aroused and angered, Carlyle orders Richie to perform sexual acts with him. Roger, now convinced of Richie’s homosexuality, says that Richie wants a black man as an “animal,” then walks out. Carlyle turns out the light. Billy turns it on again to see Richie kneeling before Carlyle, who sits on Richie’s bed. Billy hurls his sneaker at them.

Challenged, Carlyle pulls a knife and orders the frightened Billy to hold out his hand, cuts him, then, anguished, explains that he did not want to hurt anyone. Out of control, Billy admits how ridiculous his sudden fury, his racial hatred, his impulse to strike back are. He nevertheless advances on the cringing Richie and verbally attacks him; then he turns on the weary Carlyle, calling him “SAMBO!” Carlyle instinctively stabs Billy in the stomach.

At first Richie does not notice the stabbing; then he becomes hysterical. Covering his wound, Billy denies that it is serious. Terrified, on the floor, he tries to cover himself with a blanket. Roger runs for help. Carlyle mutters that Billy’s crazed talk of razors and revenge unsettled him. Like a frightened little boy, Billy pats Carlyle’s hand, apologizes and begs not to be stabbed again.

Sergeant Rooney staggers in looking for Sergeant Cokes. Alternatingly attempting to calm and threaten Carlyle, Rooney futilely brandishes his bottle as a weapon. Carlyle lunges at him and stabs Rooney repeatedly. Rooney calls out, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WAIT! WAIT!” then “No fair. No fair!” Then he whimpers, crawls along the floor, stops under Billy’s bed, and dies.

Carlyle runs out. Roger cradles the dying Billy, who is deliriously begging Carlyle not to stab him anymore and threatening to get his dog after him, when an officious military police lieutenant comes running in, leveling his gun at Roger. Richie rushes in with another military policeman, explaining that Roger was not the attacker. A third policeman shoves Carlyle into the room. He rants about being innocently covered with chicken blood. The military policemen quickly ascertain what happened, remove both dead bodies, give Roger and Richie forms to fill out, and leave. Weeping, Roger mops the floor.

Roger accuses Richie of causing the tragedy by not being honest about his homosexuality. Sergeant Cokes, grinning and waving a wine bottle, comes in with affectionate ramblings about his day with Rooney. They were playing hide-and-seek, and he lost Rooney downtown. Roger tells Richie not to tell Cokes about Rooney. Disgustedly, he explains that Richie is crying because he is “queer.” The hardened old combat veteran gently questions Richie about being homosexual and explains that there are worse things, such as leukemia.

Cokes is haunted by the vision of the Korean he trapped in a hole with a grenade and says that now he would release him. His sad, gentle manner quiets the less experienced, tormented young soldiers. In the dim light Roger asks Cokes whether he thought that Korean “was singin’ it.” Cokes says that he was; then, at first mockingly, finally very quietly, he sings an imitation of Korean-language sounds to the tune of “Beautiful Dreamer” (the same tune to which the song about the “beautiful streamer” was sung). It becomes, the playscript says, “a dream, a lullaby, a farewell, a lament.” Then there is silence. The play ends in dim light and a calm atmosphere after Cokes “makes the soft, whispering sound of a child imitating an explosion, and his entwined fingers come apart.”

Dramatic Devices

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A theatrical tour de force, Streamers eventually erupts into almost unbearable stage violence, but just when it threatens to become melodrama, it is saved by an unexpectedly touching view of humanity on the part of a formerly ridiculous minor character. Theatrically, the two minor roles of Sergeant Rooney and especially of Sergeant Cokes eventually steal the play. Their transformation from buffoonlike stereotypes into vulnerable, empathetic characters in the last scene is so unexpected that the roles loom larger in final effect than they are in proportion.

The play keeps shifting the audience’s center of attention. For most of the first act, Billy seems the central hero—decent, likable, educated but unassuming, virile, seemingly an ideal average boy. Richie’s mockery, even when directed at himself, and his game-playing refusal to admit or deny his homosexuality seem to relegate him to a tangential point of view. Roger does not have enough to do to seem central. Carlyle’s role seems to be solely that of the antagonist. In act 2, however, their interactions flesh out the characters, creating an ensemble piece in which one can see flaws and values in all roles. The ending, in which the two clownlike intruders provide ultimate horror and a kind of resolution, respectively, pulls Streamers together into a piece that emerges as an evocative slice of life.

The setting is deliberately claustrophobic; one feels as trapped in this one room as the soldiers are in their situation. As the characters behave naturally there, a sense of authenticity is established. The script’s requirement that the young men continually dress and undress and lie about on their own and one another’s bunks reinforces the homoerotic overtones of the play. When the three comrades—Billy, Richie, and Roger—sit on one another’s beds, put a foot on another’s footlocker, or move another’s possessions, that action reinforces their intimacy. When Rooney or Cokes, or, most important, Carlyle, does any such thing, it seems an intrusion. That invasion of property thus precedes the invasion of personal rights, and it is a characterizing device as well as a foreshadowing one. The set is used naturalistically to reflect what such an environment looks like. The dimming of lights at the end of each scene is justified realistically by oncoming night, but it also functions traditionally to bring down the emotional level and indicate an ending.

Historical Context

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Although Streamers was not staged until 1976, it was started several years earlier, in 1969, when the Vietnam War was still in progress. The period of Rabe’s own service (1965-1967) is the referent time, a point at which the country was being divided over the efficacy and morality of that war. Lyndon Johnson was then president, having succeeded John F. Kennedy who was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

The 1960s were an exciting decade, a period of great turbulence and change, some of it violent. Advances in civil rights were undertaken by Johnson and a compliant Congress, completing programs begun by Kennedy to create what became known as the Great Society. Arising at the same time was a movement known as the Counter Culture, prompted by such gurus as Timothy Leary, who advised America’s youth to use mind-expanding drugs like LSD and to ‘‘turn on, tune in, and drop out.’’ The Counter Culture was also comprised of people motivated by ecological concerns, the antiwar movement, and ideals that contradicted the 1950s concept of the American Dream, which focused on homogeneity and status quo.

Violence in America took acute forms in the 1960s, including assassinations, race riots, and brutal murders. Leaders felled by assassins included President Kennedy, his brother Senator Robert Kennedy, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and militant black leader Malcolm X. Racial tensions in the South escalated as the federal government began enforcing desegregation of schools and other public institutions, leading to riots such as that in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Violence would erupt in northern cities as well, notably in the wake of the murder of Dr. King. The worst outbreak occurred in the Watts area of Los Angeles over a five-day period in 1965. Less clearly motivated by racial tensions were other notable crimes of violence, like the 1969 Polanski-Tate murders committed by Charles Manson and his ‘‘family.’’

At the beginning of the 1960s, the ‘‘Baby Boomers’’ (the many children born during the economic boon following World War II) had come of age. In that year, four million of them were matriculating at American colleges and universities. Only some took Leary’s advice, trekking to the drug culture Mecca, the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, or other flower-children Edens. Most reconciled themselves to the values of the older generation, despite some necessary soul searching prompted by the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement at home. Some were caught up in different kinds of revolutionary change, from such cultural phenomena as the Beatles to exciting advances in technology, which, by the end of the decade, landed American astronauts on the moon, less than a decade after John Glenn took the first American space craft into the earth’s orbit. It was during the 1960s that the time-sharing computer was invented, the ‘‘pill’’ or oral contraceptive was introduced, and communication satellites, in effect, began a much more rapid shrinkage of an already shrinking world.

And there were other changes that would have an equally significant impact on America, including the striking down of anti-abortion laws by the Supreme Court and the growing militancy of the feminist movement, which in 1968 began taking a graphic form in its bra-burning demonstrations against the Miss America contest, a pageant that feminists felt objectified women and reduced female merit to superficial appearance.

The decade of the 1960s was both an exciting and unsettling time. It ushered in a new permissiveness suggested by the catch phrase ‘‘doing your own thing.’’ Authority was openly challenged, not just over the war in Vietnam but also over such things as student rights. In the arts, among other things, permissiveness took the form of beating down the barricades of censorship. Throughout the decade, films like Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf openly and graphically dealt with issues and themes that a decade earlier would have been taboo. By 1968, when the ‘‘triballove rock’’ musical, Hair, used a nude production number and ‘‘dirty’’ language, hardly anybody even seemed shocked. It was a decade of rapid and extraordinary change, the consequences of which are still being debated.

Literary Style

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Anti-hero An anti-hero is a character who contradicts the traditional concepts of heroism; this character type is often employed in realistic literature as a means of satirizing or debunking the hyperbolic, ‘‘can do no wrong’’ myth of the hero. Like many ultra-realistic modern works, Streamers diminishes the heroic concept to a virtual zero. All of the play’s central characters are ordinary humans, at best confused or troubled by their situation. The two veterans, Sergeants Rooney and Cokes, both combat survivors, seem more like drunken clowns than sage role models. Cokes’s principal ‘‘heroic’’ achievement was to have trapped an enemy soldier in a hole and blown him apart with a hand grenade. Even that rather sordid episode resulted from luck rather than Cokes’s courage or cunning. Only in his apparent acceptance of the fact that he has leukemia does Cokes reveal a traditional sense of nobility.

Meanwhile, some of the insecure, untested soldiers are not even able to adjust to what little the Army demands of them. Martin is a minor example, but Carlyle is the main one. His failure has dreadful consequences: the meaningless deaths of two men. In Richie, too, there is a sort of anti-heroic ineptness, revealed, for instance, in his inability to convince Roger that he is gay. Even for Billy and Roger, those who seem able to adjust, the Army seems to involve a pointless routine of busy work, of cleaning the cadre room and latrine. The distant war is merely a kind of grotesquely comic threat that offers neither glory nor honor.

ConflictStreamers is a play that creates conflict by bringing together and intertwining the lives of men with very diverse backgrounds and needs. These are realistic representatives of the civilian world from which the Army must draw men to mold into soldiers willing and able to adjust to its rules and regulations.

The play’s situation is fairly complex. Carlyle and Richie, two focal characters seem on a collision course towards a crude sexual episode, driven by very different motives. The real target of Richie’s desire is Billy, but since Billy repeatedly rejects Richie’s homosexual advances, Richie tries to arouse some jealousy in him by encouraging Carlyle. Carlyle, who seems perfectly willing to use sex as a way discharging his pent-up fury, also hints that part of his willingness to exploit Richie carnally involves a predatory need to express his power over his real or imagined adversary and persecutor, a white man. Rather than seduction, his sexual aggression towards Richie is savage, more like rape than mere lust. It is from this situation that violence erupts and ends in the deaths of both Billy and Sergeant Rooney.

Empathy One relationship that is victimized as a result of Carlyle’s fury is that between Roger and Billy. These two characters mesh. Despite their disparate background and racial differences, they develop an empathetic relationship and thereby reveal that the military has the promise of providing a context for overcoming such differences. The two work well in tandem, as a team, and are firmly on the way of becoming good friends when Carlyle destroys their bond by killing Billy.

Mood The mood of Streamers is both erratic and explosive, reflective of the troubled and conflicting attitudes of the men, particularly Carlyle, who throughout the play is both angry and unpredictable. His mood swings run through an emotional gamut from savage aggression to child-like bafflement and contrition, making him seem the most complex of the characters.

The distant war in Vietnam has a catalytic effect on the play’s mood; it looms like a dark spirit over the play’s events. Although the action takes place stateside, the specter of Vietnam is a tangible presence that fuels the men’s anxiety, fear, and despair. The men are all aware that the Asian conflict is a threat to their survival, a fact which fans the emotional fire in each of them. All of them are on edge because of it.

Motif Certain motifs play a significant part in Streamers. The dominant symbolic motif is the streamer, the parachute that fails to open and sends it user plummeting to death, which is more fully discussed as a symbol. Also important is the nearly obsessive need of Roger and Billy to clean and polish their surroundings. They are the best adjusted soldiers, willing to engage in routines that reflect two of the Army’s guiding principles: that order and discipline must control the soldier’s habits and that the habits must be so deeply ingrained in the soldier as to become almost instinctive. The personal hygiene of Billy and Roger contrasts sharply with the slovenliness of Carlyle, whose greasy and stained fatigues seem to blatantly signal his dangerous maladjustment to Army life.

Naturalism Although it is hardly documentary in method, Streamers has a ‘‘slice of life’’ quality to it. Like life, it does not seem shaped to fit the needs of a dominate theme, and it lacks the clear causality of the typical thesis play in the realistic tradition. Its characters, largely anti-heroic, do not line up on some side of an ethical dilemma. In fact, there is no central figure, no consistent protagonist. It is impossible to say exactly whose play it is, although it is clear that Carlyle comes closest to serving as the dominant plot driver.

Naturalism tends to examine life clinically, particularly life in its lowest forms. It comes closer to replicating life rather than merely imitating it. While Rabe’s play is not about society’s dregs, it does unmask some unsavory qualities in fairly average people, the savage and crude needs of Carlyle, for example. No ‘‘polite’’ restraints bar its honest portrayal of its characters’ needs, no matter how seamy. Nor is there any restraint on their vulgarity.

Setting The barracks cadre room in which all of the action of Streamers takes place, though large enough, is a very confining space psychologically. It plays an important part in creating the claustrophobic, ‘‘no exit’’ atmosphere of the drama, the sense of entrapment that is particularly unsettling for those characters unable to adjust to Army life, notably Carlyle. It is also a space that can be interpreted as a microcosmic representation of the larger world beyond, an American society that at the time was wracked by such stressful and discordant problems as racial unrest and the anti-war movement.

Beyond the cadre room and the unidentified Army base, there is the Vietnam War what Roger and Billy cynically refer to as ‘‘Disneyland,’’ a nightmarish and extremely dangerous fantasy world where Sergeant Rooney will be playing ‘‘Mickey Mouse.’’ It threatens each of the characters. Billy, for example, fears its jungle setting because he is terrified of snakes. For all, the War is an intrusive presence that for the soldiers seems to lie just outside, like a lion at the gates.

Slang One of the most compelling features of Streamers is its frank language. It is a cauldron of jarring voices that reflect the different heritages and personal histories of its characters. Much of the dialogue is crude and slangy, full of obscenities and inarticulate verbal ravings that come perilously close to leaving clear sense behind though not the emotional mood of the speaker.

Sharp distinctions are made between the speech characteristics of the different soldiers, of Richie and Carlyle, for example. The former’s talk is generally quieter and more coherent. It is also more bookish, grammatically ‘‘correct’’ and rational. The latter’s is much more energetic, far less rational and controlled, and loaded with ‘‘jive’’ slang and sudden mood shifting that make it at times seem barely under mental control; Carlyle’s explosive speech patterns are a clear representation of his anguished, enraged psyche.

Symbol Much has been made of the symbolic import of the titular reference of Streamers. In their inebriated antics, Sergeants Rooney and Cokes put on a mock airborne exercise, a parachute drop, and doing it sing what may be viewed as the play’s coda, ‘‘Beautiful Streamer’’ (sung to the tune of Stephen Foster’s ‘‘Beautiful Dreamer’’). A streamer is a parachute that does not open correctly and plummets its victim to death. At the end of play, in a mock oriental threnody, Cokes sings the song again.

Symbolically, the parachutist may be perceived as a kind of everyman. If his chute opens, he survives the fall to earth, but if it does not, he perishes. There is a terrible arbitrariness to the jumper’s fate, outside his ability to control. Similarly, the young soldiers are ‘‘dropped’’ into a situation that they can not control. They may or may not land softly on their feet, making the adjustment necessary to survive Army life.

Compare and Contrast

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1960s: Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba reminds Americans that communism is ‘‘only 90 miles away.’’ President Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev spar over the missiles in Cuba, averting open hostilities only when Kruschev orders the removal of the weapons from that island nation.

Today: Although Castro remains in power, and the U.S. sanctions against him are still in effect, the fall of Russia’s communist government effectively ended the Cold War. Cuba is no longer considered a threat to the United States.

1960s: In 1962, Rachel Carson publishes The Silent Spring, the seminal work in the environmental movement. The federal government begins taking steps to protect the environment from further damage. The first landmark legislation is the Clean Air Act of 1963.

Today: Environmental concerns have grown considerably since the 1960s. Most recent studies concern global warming and the population explosion. Bleak predictions about future inability to prevent such disasters as mass starvation, the destruction of the ozone layer, and the depletion of natural resources are often in the news, despite efforts of nay-sayers to minimize them.

1960s: Perhaps the greatest single ‘‘happening’’ symbolizing the new consciousness of the 1960s is the rock festival held at Woodstock, New York, in 1969. There, to celebrate the new tunedin culture and protest civil wrongs and the Vietnam War thousands gather for ‘‘three days of peace, love, and music.

Today: In 1999, in an effort to tap into nostalgia, promoters stage a new Woodstock festival that will be remembered not as a love-in but an embarrassing commercial flop that led to minor rioting when greedy concessionaires gouged attendees for food and drink after prohibiting the concert goers from bringing their own supplies into the festival area.

1960s: The United States is just beginning to enter the ‘‘Informational Age.’’ Computers are large and extremely costly devices designed for large organizations rather than home use. By mid-decade communication satellites are in orbit and new fiber optic cables greatly expand communication channels.

Today: In the post-industrial society it is common for many homes to have personal computers. Communication with virtually any place in the world is now possible via computers and satellite links, and the Internet is rapidly becoming a virtual library, making information retrieval quick, cheap, and easy.

Media Adaptations

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Rabe adapted Streamers for film in 1983. Directed by Robert Altman, the work features Matthew Modine as Billy, Michael Wright as Carlyle, Mitchell Lichtenstein as Richie, David Alan Grier as Roger, Guy Boyd as Rooney, George Dzundza as Cokes, and Albert Macklin as Martin. The film is available on videocassette.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources Clurman, Harold. ‘‘Theatre’’ in the Nation, May 8, 1976, p. 574.

Hewes, Henry. ‘‘To ‘Disneyland’ and Back’’ in the Saturday Review, April 17, 1976, p. 48.

Kauffmann, Stanley. ‘‘Molehills’’ in the New Republic, June 12, 1976, p. 20.

Kroll, Jack. ‘‘Three Cuts to the Quick’’ in Newsweek, February 23, 1976, p. 89.

Rabe, David. ‘‘Afterword: 1992’’ in The Vietnam Plays, Grove Press, 1993, p. 181.

Further Reading Asahina, Robert. ‘‘The Basic Training of American Playwrights: Theatre and the Vietnam War’’ in Theatre, Vol. 9, Spring, 1978, pp. 30-37. Asahina argues that Rabe, despite his flaws, is the only dramatist focusing on the Vietnam conflict ‘‘concerned with the art of the theater.’’ He considers Streamers Rabe’s best work and separates characters into those who, like parachutists, ‘‘will float’’ and those who ‘‘will plunge’’ to their fate.

Beidler, Phillip D. American Literature and the Experience of Vietnam, University of Georgia Press, 1982. Beidler credits Rabe with producing the most important Vietnam War plays in the 1970s. Streamers is discussed as a play dealing with the brutal influence on soldiers who have yet to go to Southeast Asia, and argues that the character of Carlyle evokes ‘‘the dark latencies’’ in the other major characters.

Hertzbach, Janet S. ‘‘The Plays of David Rabe: A World of Streamers’’ in Essays on Contemporary American Drama, edited by Hedwig Bock and Albert Wertheim, Hueber, 1981, pp. 173-86. Hertzbach examines the metaphors, basic themes, and topical allusions in Rabe’s plays and concludes that Streamers is the most direct, structurally coherent, and ‘‘persuasive’’ of the playwright’s works.

Hurrell, Barbara. ‘‘American Self-Image in David Rabe’s Vietnam Trilogy’’ in Journal of American Culture, Vol. 4, 1981, pp. 95-107. Hurrell discusses the deleterious effect of the Vietnam War on the conscience of America as seen in Rabe’s ‘‘trilogy,’’ which depicts struggles between conflicting and ‘‘incompatible’’ images of one’s self and those of antagonistic forces, including, in Streamers, fellow soldiers with diverse backgrounds.

Kolin, Philip C. ‘‘David Rabe’s Streamers’’ in the Explicator, Vol. 45, Fall, 1986, pp. 63-64. Kolin discusses the archetypical rite of passage theme evoked in Rabe’s play and the important role of the ‘‘destructive father figures’’ whose crimes against the young soldiers lead to the barracks violence.

Kolin, Philip C. David Rabe: A Stage History and a Primary and Secondary Bibliography, Garland, 1988. A major research tool for further Rabe study, Kolin’s book includes an exhaustive bibliography through the 1980s and a thorough stage history of Rabe’s plays, including Streamers.

Marrance, Bonnie. ‘‘David Rabe’s Viet Nam Trilogy’’ in Canadian Theatre Review, Vol. 14, Spring, 1977, pp. 86-92. Marrance argues that Rabe’s so-called ‘‘trilogy’’ is not anti-war per se but is rather concerned with the effects of Vietnam conflict on his ordinary characters. The author claims that Streamers, a modern ‘‘wellmade play,’’ chronicles those effects with ‘‘documentary realism.’’

Rosen, Carol Cynthia. Plays of Impasse: Contemporary Drama Set in Confining Institutions, Princeton University Press, 1983. On pages 236-250 of her study, Rosen identifies both The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Streamers as ‘‘impasse’’ plays. Streamers presents a ‘‘no-exit situation’’ that, in ‘‘entropic’’ fashion, deteriorates into violence, the only possible response in a ‘‘system which promises nothing.’’

Werner, Craig. ‘‘Primal Screams and Nonsense Rhymes: David Rabe’s Revolt’’ in Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 30, December, 1978, pp. 517-29. Werner argues that language problems lie the heart of Rabe’s war plays. In Streamers it is the ‘‘collapse of metaphor’’ that leads to an inescapable ‘‘concrete reality’’ resulting in death.


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Sources for Further Study

Asahina, Robert. “The Basic Training of American Playwrights: Theater and the Vietnam War.” Theater 9 (Spring, 1978): 30-37.

Beidler, Philip D. American Literature and the Experience of Vietnam. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982.

Hertzbach, Janet S. “The Plays of David Rabe: A World of Streamers.” In Essays on Contemporary American Drama, edited by Hedwig Bock. Munich: M. Hueber, 1981.

Homan, Richard L. “American Playwrights in the 1970s: Rabe and Shepard.” Critical Quarterly 24 (Spring, 1982): 73-82.

Kolin, Philip C. David Rabe: A Stage History and a Primary and Secondary Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1988.

McDonough, Carla J. Staging Masculinity: Male Identity in Contemporary American Drama. Jefferson, Mo.: McFarland, 1996.

Marranca, Bonnie. “David Rabe’s Vietnam Trilogy.” Canadian Theatre Review 14 (1977): 86-92.

Mohr, Hans Ulrich. “David Rabe’s Streamers: Vietnam and Postmodernism.” In Modern War on Stage and Screen. Lewiston, New York: Mellen, 1997.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide