The Trial of Jane Fonda, a stage play by writer-director Terry Jastrow, world premier Edinburgh, Scotland, July-August 2014
The long-running visceral feud between America’s Vietnam veterans and anti-war activist Jane Fonda was successfully brought to the stage during this year’s Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. The performers played to a packed house for almost a month, and The Trial of Jane Fonda was a highlight of the annual festival of plays and music, the largest in the world. Scottish newspaper reviewers generally gave it high praise, although the Telegraph described it as “a play that’s weighty with research and good intentions, but lacking in subtlety.”
The script is based on a little-known event in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1988, when Fonda confronted a roomful of hostile Vietnam vets who had threatened to stop her from shooting the film Stanley & Iris in their town. They were upset about Fonda’s 1972 visit to Hanoi, which the veterans thought verged on treason.
Writer-director Terry Jastrow of Los Angeles, a former sports producer for ABC, grounded the play in extensive research, including travel to Hanoi to interview people who were guides and interpreters during Fonda’s trip. He also obtained original film images of Fonda’s infamous posturing on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun.
Jastrow interviewed Fonda and many of the vets who confronted her in Connecticut. I talked with Jastrow, and he assured me that although Fonda contributed time and information, she had no say in the creative aspects of the production and no veto power, and has never read or seen the play.
Anne Archer, best known for her Oscar-nominated role in Fatal Attraction, delivers a compelling performance as Fonda, particularly as she grows from a film star into an older, wiser woman.
The play opens with six angry Vietnam veterans venting their rage about Fonda, who has been invited by a local pastor to meet with them in his Connecticut church for an attempt at mediation. Fonda soon arrives, and each character gets time for a display of passionate reasoning. By the end of the play, they have all had their say, but with no apparent winner. An overhead screen onstage shows images of the Vietnam War as a historical counterpoint.
For some Vietnam veterans, the statute of limitations on Fonda’s perceived crimes will never run out. But the story of her activism does provide grist for a compelling stage drama.
After the success of The Trial of Jane Fonda in Edinburgh, Jastrow and producer Dann Moss are hopeful the play can be staged in the States.
Originally published in the December 2014 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.