David Kleinberg’s latest solo theater work, Hey, Hey, LBJ! – a powerful drama on the most divisive foreign war in America’s history – appears five times (July 10th through July 18, 2014) at the Goethe Institut (812 7th Street, NW) during the Capital Fringe Festival.
The work — written and performed by Kleinberg and Directed by Mark Kenward — traces Kleinberg’s year as a combat correspondent for the army’s 25th Infantry Division at Cu Chi, Vietnam. Kleinberg arrives pro-Johnson and the war, but begins to have doubts as the year unfolds.
In the end, Kleinberg is on R&R partying in Bangkok while his public information office buddies are back in Vietnam in a roofless bunker under heavy rocket attack.
“It was interesting because after I returned from Vietnam, I thought I might write something,” says Kleinberg who worked as an editor and writer at the San Francisco Chronicle for 34 years. “So I solicited detailed manuscripts from those who survived the bunker attack. But I never did anything. Forty-seven years later I had source material to turn to.
“This is a very powerful and riveting work,” Kleinberg adds. “Even after all this time, I cried half the time I was writing this. If the piece shows anything, it clearly demonstrates how war taints just about everyone it touches.
“I suppose some people would call this an anti-war work. But I believe — as I’ve written at one point in the script– that there are just wars, but I don’t think this was one of them. And it’s very interesting that when I tell people of my generation the title of the piece, ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ’ they smile in irony, knowing very well how the rest of the chant went.”
Hey, Hey, LBJ! includes video clips from the President Johnson’s “Why Vietnam” speech; Kleinberg’s 8mm film of American units destroying a Vietnamese village for no apparent reason; scenes from Bob Hope’s 1966 Christmas Eve USO tour to the Cu Chi base camp (Hope: “I just want to remind you, America’s behind you . . . 18 percent!”); CBS’ Mike Wallace at the base camp the day after the Cu Chi rocket attack to ask why the victims’ bunkers had no tops; and Kleinberg’s powerful 1968 Anti-War Speech at San Francisco’s City Hall (which later appeared in PBS’ Berkeley in the ’60s and PBS’ City Hall).
“Vietnam was a unique conflict in American history,” Kleinberg says. “It was the first war where our soldiers could not see the enemy, it was the most divided war in American history, the first that America lost, and the last war to have a draft.”
Kleinberg is dedicating all net profits from “Hey, Hey, LBJ!” to the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Kleinberg initially served as a reporter in the field in Vietnam, and later edited the division newspaper. He was awarded the bronze star for his service. In civilian life, following retirement from The Chronicle, Kleinberg turned to comedy and solo theater. As a comedian, he has worked with Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Sinbad and Richard Lewis. This is Kleinberg’s second solo theater work after his hit ground-breaking work The Voice.