An autobiographical one-man show about performing a different autobiographical one-man show? It sounds like the ultimate Fringe Festival cliché. But despite its conceit, David Kleinberg’s Return to the Scene of the Crime is a sincere and moving, if sprawling and unwieldy, show which embodies a totally different Fringe cliché: the diamond in the rough.
Kleinberg’s first solo show, Hey, Hey, LBJ!, which was part of the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival, is about his year stationed in Vietnam as an army combat war correspondent. Fifty years after the events of that play, Kleinberg is back in Vietnam trying to find a way to perform the show without government authorization. Venues won’t touch it for fear of government retribution and family and friends fear he will be arrested, but Kleinberg is driven to continue on his quest to bring his story to the locals. Will the show go on?
Return to the Scene of the Crime
closes July 16, 2017
In the case of Return to the Scene of the Crime, however, the play is actually not the thing. As he awaits word from his producer, Kleinberg visits the site of his old base camp, Cu Chi (now a tourist attraction dedicated to the Viet Cong), the house he shared with his army buddy in Ho Chi Minh City and the old bar they haunted, among other sites. As he revisits these places, and is confronted by the loss and destruction suffered by the Vietnamese, he is forced to question his personal narrative of the war – a journey which is thought-provoking and affecting.
Unfortunately, it takes a while to get there.The first two-thirds of the show, where the narrative is not as tightly constructed, is only intermittently successful. Flashbacks to a bombing were vivid and affecting, but not fully integrated into the arc of the show and difficult to follow. A fantasy sequence was awkward and confusing. As a performer, Kleinberg is at his best when he is simply being himself. His attempts at embodying characters, and especially accents, were at times ham-handed. The performance I saw was stilted in places as he tried to remember his lines. Other times, he had to ask his Stage Manager to prompt him. His cause was not helped by late light and sound cues, and the distractingly loud sound of footsteps walking on the bare wooden floor above his venue.
Though there are rough spots, Return to the Scene of the Crime redeems itself at the end where the narrative is focused and simplified. In a particularly moving scene, Kleinberg visits the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh where he finds floor after floor of pictures and stories of civilian victims of land mines, Agent Orange and American raids. Kleinberg attempts to reconcile the Vietnamese narrative with his own with genuine, unadulterated emotion that is unusual for the Fringe festival. With more polish, Return to the Scene of the Crime could become a show that really shines.
Return to the Scene of the Crime written and performed by David Kleinberg. Developed with David Ford. Directed by Mark Kenward. Reviewed by Amy Couchoud.