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Theater Sun Jun 16 2013

Homecoming 1972: Chicago Dramatists' Play Scripts Springsteen Song

Chicago Dramatists' world premiere production of Homecoming 1972 by resident dramatist Robert Koon puts us back in the Vietnam era. It reminds us of the dissent and confrontations of that time and how much that mood differs from today's high-tech multiwar era.

Kimberly Senior skillfully directs this play and helps us see each of the characters' qualities. But the overtones are loneliness and sadness. The double-edged homecoming is that of Frank (played by Matt Holzfeind), a Vietnam veteran who returns home with physical and psychic wounds and is unable to deal with daily life. It's also the high school homecoming in the small Minnesota town. The 90-minute play is performed in a series of two-person scenes, fluidly moving from one to the next on the efficiently designed set.


Frank's brother Joe is a highway patrolman who got a farm deferment; he stayed home and married Maria, the young women who both men loved in high school. At this point, a Bruce Springsteen fan would start to think, "Wait a minute--this sounds very familiar." And in fact, the play is a scripted retelling of Springsteen's song "Highway Patrolman" from his haunting, acoustic 1982 Nebraska album. Whether or not you've seen the play, the lyrics tell the story.

Frank is a jittery, agitated veteran in constant pain, living on prescription painkillers, coffee and a monthly disability check. Holzfeind plays the part in a nuanced way; we are really uncomfortable with his pain and discomfort.

At times, it seems that not much is happening in Homecoming 1972; however, the action comes in tense, emotional scenes between Joe (Brett Schneider) and Maria (Greta Honold), between Maria and Frank, and Frank with Darla (Megan Kohl now/Molly Glynn through June 9), a diner waitress with her own set of pain. Frank, who has trouble connecting with anyone, communicates with his brother through Maria.

Maria and Joe have problems, too. She works as a substitute teacher and yearns to leave the small town and go somewhere else. He is committed to staying in his highway patrol job, living in the old family house with all its memories.

The fifth character in the play is The Kid, a restless, horny 22-year-old who comes from money. He has a new college degree, a girlfriend and a hot new red car. Julian Hester gives this character a believable edge. The Kid tries to pick up Maria when they meet on a park bench and later drinks beer and has a drug transaction with Frank, which ends badly. But The Kid is really a plot device. As Joe says in the Springsteen song:

"Well the night was like any other, I got a call `bout quarter to nine.
There was trouble in a roadhouse out on the Michigan line.
There was a kid lyin' on the floor lookin' bad bleedin' hard from his head there was a girl cryin' at a table and it was Frank, they said."

That roadhouse scene (played offstage) leads to the play's ending, as Joe tries to bring his brother to justice. If the play has an ambiguous ending, well, so does the song.

As the play ended, "Thunder Road," from the iconic 1975 Springsteen album Born to Run , came roaring out of the speakers. It was a fitting ending for a gripping and thought-provoking play.


Homecoming 1972 runs through June 23 at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. Tickets are $32 and can be purchased online. For more information, call 312-633-0630.

Matt Holzfeind and Molly Glynn photo by Jeff Hines.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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