Blake Edwards ’15 in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, one of two student productions focused on the Vietnam War.
Blake Edwards ’15 in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, one of two student productions focused on the Vietnam War.
Justin Goldberg

The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel first appeared as an off-Broadway production May 19, 1971. Nearly 44 years later, David Rabe’s Vietnam War drama had a three-night run in the Matthews Acting Studio.

The play opens with the death of everyman-character Pavlo Hummel, subsequently jumping back in time to trace Hummel’s experience in military training and in war. Pat Rounds ’15, playing the title character, and Blake Edwards ’15, playing the role of Sgt. Tower, proposed the production for their senior-thesis project in theater.

Pavlo Hummel, which ran Jan. 8–10, is one of two campus productions about Vietnam this year in which students have focused less on the particulars of that war and more on larger themes that it represented. “For me, even though it was very much grounded in a very specific historical context, the play has a lot to say about humanity, about masculinity, and about self-destruction,” Rounds said. “Look at [the terror attacks in] Paris right now — it doesn’t go away.”

Courtesy Brian Geiger ’16

Director Tim Vasen, who is also the director of Princeton’s Program in Theater, said the play — one of the earliest depictions of the Vietnam War on stage or screen — “began an artistic conversation about the damage that conflict was doing to the American soldiers who fought it.”

For today’s audience, he said, “it presents with savage clarity the cost — not just in life or limb, but in the deepest levels of the self–fighting any war can impose on those who fight it in our name, whatever the cause.”

Billy Cohen ’16, a religion major with a certificate in theater, said the play brought home that “whether it’s race-related, ideology-based, or physically violent, conflict comes in various forms and requires people to face it in solidarity together.”

The second Vietnam-themed production, Hero, will appear on campus in late April. Eamon Foley ’15, an anthropology major with Broadway acting credits to his name, incorporated interviews with Vietnam veterans, a visit to Vietnam, a rock-music score, and aerial choreography to create the piece.

“When you are given one boy’s journey through the Vietnam War, whether it be in Pavlo or Hero, you are let into a world of hyper-intensity and extra-human sensitivity to your surroundings,” Foley said. “You are thrust into chaos, and you are let into the secret that man is capable of horrific depravity.”