In ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ,’ the tale of a combat correspondent’s experience in Vietnam


David Kleinberg of the Capital Fringe Festival play "Hey, Hey, LBJ" (Courtesy of David Kleinberg)

Monologuing in D.C. is usually a young person’s game — 20- and 30-somethings dishing about sexual hijinks and embarrassing job interviews at U Street bar competitions. David Kleinberg’s “Hey, Hey, LBJ” is something else entirely. A 70-minute trip through his experience as a combat correspondent in Vietnam, the one-man show is as polished and moving a piece of theater as Capital Fringe is likely to see this year.

With judicious use of historical news clips, ’60s rock and his own footage of Vietnamese fleeing a bombed-out village, Kleinberg traces his transformation from a patriotic war supporter who thinks he’s just too old to serve to an ardent opponent who has seen a year of combat in Cu Chi.

Kleinberg, a former editor at the San Francisco Chronicle who discovered stand-up comedy in his 50s, depicts his old comrades crudely but mostly effectively with accents and facial expressions. The difference between a Vietnamese jungle tour, a Bangkok hotel hookup and an Atlantic City reunion is largely in subtle changes of stance and tone. While some scenes lag as Kleinberg lingers on the guilty doldrums of a posting that’s not quite in the war and not quite out of it, the low-level tension pays off in the end.

After 11 years in Iraq and 13 in Afghanistan, a show about the horrors of a war that ended decades ago might seem beside the point. “Hey, Hey, LBJ” is a reminder that every war story has its own potent humor and horror. Forty years on, parody songs begging the Viet Cong not to kill non-vital artists and writers are still funny, as is an evocative account of a “s--- burning duty” fiasco that serendipitously reveals an enemy tunnel. The bloodshed that follows is still sickening. And the complaints of a soldier with PTSD who, 32 years later, is still battling Veterans Affairs over disability are hardly old news at all.

Hey, Hey, LBJ

Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW, Friday at 6 p.m. Call 866-811-4111
or visit www.capitalfringe.org.
About 70 minutes.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

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