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Capital Fringe 2014 Review: ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ!’

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The unfolding story of one combat correspondent and his changing views on the Vietnam War, David Kleinberg’s solo performance Hey, Hey, LBJ! spans three decades and two continents. Hey, Hey, LBJ is an honest and uncompromising account of Kleinberg’s life in a combat zone and the aftermath. Kleinberg uses dark humor to depict the interactions between himself and his fellow war correspondents. He breaks into comical ditties, boogies to background music and then switches to stark accounts of wartime atrocities.

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Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Throughout the show, Kleinberg holds several conversations with himself. He takes on the part of his commanding officer, his fellow enlisted men, U.S.O. performers and others. These characterizations are interesting, but the lengthy conversations become slightly difficult to follow. I would be interested in seeing this same story told using several other actors to portray these additional characters. Kleinberg’s performance is most honest and enjoyable when he is simply sharing his perspective. The narration jumps back and forth between Vietnam in the late 1960s and America in the 1990s. Kleinberg often introduces these sudden switches, but the constant changes make it hard to understand the timeline of events.

Director Mark Kenward has staged the show fittingly. The set is simple and minimal: a single chair and a projector. Kleinberg moves around the space, miming props. Kenward uses a background projector sparingly but chillingly to show video of President Lyndon Johnson and Kleinberg speaking about the Vietnam War. These serious moments are juxtaposed with farcical tales. Kleinberg tells a comical story about being placed on feces burning detail. He tries to distract himself with thoughts of an attractive nurse who is rumored to have certain salacious talents. This scene lasts too long though, and the tale doesn’t live up to its full comic potential.

Hey, Hey, LBJ! includes some vivid and emotional moments. Kleinberg is a master of the dramatic pause. The show pays an important tribute to the hardships of war and the plight of the soldiers after their stint in battle. It is a 70-minute show that could stand to lose about 10 minutes. For a thoughtful conversation about various viewpoints on the Vietnam War and life in the wake of battle, Hey, Hey, LBJ! is a somber historical reflection.   

Running Time: 70 minutes.

Hey, Hey, LBJ! plays through July 27, 2014 at Goethe Institut – 812 7th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe Page.

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