REVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Tunnel Rat

By Neil Cole

tunnel rat by neil cole
Tunnel Rat by Neil Cole

Directed by Brian LeTraunik

Produced by Genesis Theatrical Productions

At The National Pastime Theater in

The Preston Bradley Center, Chicago

Trite, cliched Vietnam veteran story has little to say

I was a riot fighter with an Illinois Army National Guard MP unit in Chicago from 1966-71.  I never served in Vietnam. But I did live and know several war heroes who served in the jungle and I have the utmost respect and empathy for their deeds. That being said, I was offended by the trite, cliched-ridden play by Australian playwright Neil Cole has presented.

Tunnel Rat by Neil Cole

The simplicity of the play trivializes with few worthy insights to the lifelong trauma suffered by a 17 year old boy cajoled by a judge to join the US Army to  fight instead of going to prison. Based on Ronnie Giles’ (Mark J. Shallow) story of his adventures as a tunnel rat due to his short stature, the 70 minute one-act revolves around Giles’ sessions with psychiatrist Lucy (Stefanie Johnsen).

Giles wears a wrinkled unauthentic US Army dress green uniform complete   medals but devoid of any rank stripes. I never bought for a moment that Shallow was a soldier let alone a traumatized tunnel rat who killed a Vietcong woman during a tunnel excurison.  The constant visits from Liran (Joyce Hshieh), as the ghost of the fallen enemy was over-staged and incredulous.  I also found having the youthful Stefanie Johnsen play a judge and various Army officers was also unbelievable.

But my irritation to this work rests mainly with the repetitive circular structure of the play. Giles and Lucy go over the events and source of Giles’ PTSD so often that I was about to scream. Giles’ lifelong memories from the horrors and fears of his tunnel activity that led to his killing of a female Vietcong are never resolved nor fully developed by his visits to the mental health professional. Amazingly, Lucy has nothing to offer Giles as psychological help. Instead, she does what no professional therapist would do – she tells  himof her personal demons and foibles that comes from her being an over-achieving Jew. Hah?

The show is filled with stilted flashbacks, stupid physicality (especially between Giles and Liran), and a long, ridiculous dance scene to the tune of a Sinatra song. One would think that a play titled “Tunnel Rat” would give more detail and dramatization as to what those brave soldiers had to endure in the tunnels instead of a poorly written psychological therapy session. Cole’s play is devoid of depth and the cast never reaches beyond the surface of the soldier’s trauma. What a wasted opportunity. Skip this one.

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: April 5, 2012

For more info checkout the Tunnel Rat page at

At The Preston Bradley Center, 941 W. Lawrence, 4th floor, Chicago, IL, call 773-327-7077, tickets $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 70 minutes without intermission, through April 29, 2012

3 thoughts on “Tunnel Rat

  • Hello,

    I was at the opening of the Play Tunnel Rat on 4/5/2012 with 27 other Vietnam Veterans from Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter #242 in Chicago, IL. Also in attendence were two friends of Ronnies, one another Vietnam Veteran From Ohio, and his son a Chicago Policeman.

    In attendence were Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Veterans from Vietnam that received other Medals for their service in Vietnam. Most of these Vietnam Veterans have PTSD, and other issues related to their service in Vietnam. Last night at our VVA Chapter #242, I gave an overview of the Play, and how we had 14 members that went to dinner with Ronnie Giles before attending the Play.

    Did you mention in your review, that were correct, yes, but most people don’t even understand what we went through in Vietnam, because of how most of us were treated when we came home. Many things have changed since that time, and most of us all feel WELCOME HOME now, thanks to the City of Chicago and the 1986 Chicago Vietnam Veterans WELCOME HOME PARADE in 1986, which I was the Program Chairman for. Most of the Vietnam Veterans attending the Play were at that WELCOME HOME Parade and that was their WELCOME HOME.

    I also served with Ronnie Giles in the 3RD Squadron 4th Cavalry back in ’65 – ’66 and Proud that I went to see this Play, and I would suggest to anyone that wants to see a bit of a very dangerous job that
    was done by Tunnel Rats, and have delt with PTSD after it, who were just Soldeir’s doing their jobs went through, to attend this Play The Tunnel Rat. I am also Proud of my friend, Brother, and fellow Vietnam Veteran Ronnie Giles.

  • Dear Tom,

    I must say your review of my play is bizarre if it is not sad. The whole point of he play was to explore Post Traumatic Stress Disorder not talk about life in the tunnels.

    The war was a disgrace. Ronnie’s part in it was equally disgraceful. Australian soldiers fought and died in a war which produced post traumatic stress. That is the reality.

    How you could be offended by it is beyond me. Then reading your review probably indicates you supported the war in the first place.

    Perhaps some objectivity in your reviews would be a worthwhile venture.

  • ps i forgot to say the blokes who actually fought in the war loved the play. Most particularly Ronnie whom I consulted through out the writing.

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