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 theatreinchicago.com

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