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University spotlights Steinbeck’s Vietnam letters

University spotlights Steinbeck’s Vietnam letters

CSU Stanislaus’ theatre department is staging the last known published work from John Steinbeck, which documents his time in Vietnam.


POSTED April 3, 2014 6:27 p.m.

Between 1966 and 1967 author John Steinbeck, known for championing the downtrodden in his fictional works, wrote a series of dispatches from Vietnam that shocked many because of a perceived pro-war stance. After the initial publication Steinbeck’s dispatches largely languished in obscurity until recently when “Steinbeck in Vietnam:  The Last Published Works of John Steinbeck” was released. Now, the theatre department at California State University, Stanislaus will add a dramatic nuance to the work with their stage performance of the piece. The work, adapted and directed by Professor John Mayer is presented as a reader’s theater that follows the arc of Steinbeck’s experiences and impressions. “It’s just beautiful writing,” Mayer said. “It is done in such a way that he captures, the humor, the pathos, he hits it from all the angles.” “Steinbeck in Vietnam:  The Last Published Works of John Steinbeck” is the last known published works from the Nobel Prize winning author. He agreed to write a series of dispatches for Newsday describing his foray into the country. He traveled with troops on the ground, including one of his sons, through combat zones in South Vietnam and wrote about the experiences in letter formats to Dear Alicia, in reference to the deceased wife of Newsday’s publisher. The pieces stirred up controversy because they were seen as being largely pro-war at a time when many in the country were against the war effort and the continued American presence in Vietnam. Steinbeck’s view of the war did change because of his experience in country, though those views were really only expressed in his private correspondences. Scholar Thomas Barden collected the dispatches into novel form, interspersing them with secondary source material. The play version has only been performed once and Mayer is hopeful it will attract some local Steinbeck afficinados eager to experience his last known work.

The performance has a small cast that features Tony Carreiro, Dan Gately, Bo Henry, and Laura Dickinson-Turner.

Carreiro has been in several film and television shows over the years, including “Lethal Weapon 2,” “Liar Liar,” “Doctor Doctor,” and “ER.” He also is an associate professor at Long Beach City College, where he teaches acting and movement.

Gately, a Chicago-based actor, returns to the CSU Stanislaus stage after playing the title role in “Macbeth” in 2013. He also is serving as the guest director for the upcoming performances of “Twelfth Night.”

Henry is the performing arts technician at the university. He previously supervised the set construction of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Coraline” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

Dickinson-Turner is a graduated of Stanislaus who went on to join a New York sketch comedy team MyMK47 and co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed the off-off Broadway play “Five Seconds to Air.”

“We’re really fortunate to have an incredible cast,” Mayer said.

The show is set for 8 p.m. April 10 and 11 in the Mainstage Theatre. Tickets are $12 and $15. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.csustan.edu/soa/buy-theatre-tickets.

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