Vietnam War veteran and playwright Amlin Gray visited Francis Marion University (FMU) on Feb. 20 to speak with students and watch the staged reading of his play “How I Got that Story.”
While in Vietnam, Gray served as a medic but chose to write the play from the perspective of a journalist to keep the story imaginative and objective. Gray referred to his play as “an indirect autobiography.”
“It is a little easier for me to put things in enough of a remove that I’m not recording an immediate, direct experience but allowing imagination come in and make changes [in order to] develop a play along fanatic lines so you’re not just tied down to fact,” Gray said.
The staged reading took place in the Kassab Recital Hall at 7:30 pm. Two FMU graduates and one current student portrayed characters for the reading. Professor of English Dr. Jon W. Tuttle, who knows Gray personally and organized the event, asked the trio to perform.
CJ Miller, an FMU graduate with a degree in theater, was cast to act out multiple characters. During the question-and-answer session that followed the play, Gray told the audience he intentionally wanted only one person to play all 19 characters. Miller said he was impressed with Gray’s creative choice.
“I found it fascinating that there were only two actors, [and one of them] was playing multiple characters,” Miller said.
The play is centered on ‘The Reporter’, portrayed by current theater major Xavier Nettles. The play takes the reporter through various scenarios and obstacles that war journalists faced then and now. Some of the situations are true reflections of Gray’s experience but are written from a reporter’s perspective rather than through the eyes of a medic.
Throughout the play, Nettles acts out the burden journalists face to remain objective while recounting what takes place during war. One of Nettles’ lines read, “I’m not here. I’m just reporting.”
It becomes evident as the play continues that the more ‘The Reporter’ attempts to remain outside the conflict, the more the happenings of war in the fictional country “Ambo- Land” consume him.
The story ends with the narrator, FMU graduate Carissa Fazio, directing the audience’s attention to a screen which contained a photo of The Reporter.
Nettles explained that photo slides would normally compliment the play in a full production, but the idea was to illustrate that ‘The Reporter’ was no longer objective and had become part of the event.
“How I Got That Story” was first presented by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre on April 12, 1979. It premiered in New York at Second Stage Threatre on Dec. 7, 1980. The play has won several Obie Awards, including for playwriting.