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France to Vietnam: Nightmares of a Baby Boomer

The hard-fought struggle with life after war will be explored in a new one-man show

Jim Watkins toured in Vietnam in the early ‘70s. His one-man show explores what happened next. Photo credit: Jim Watkins

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One thing that this country of ours has had a hard time wrapping its head around is the notion of post-traumatic stress disorder. It occurs in our everyday citizens' lives, making its home in the minds of our friends and family members in the days, months and years following harrowing events, but for whatever reason, it gets classified as something that can easily be shrugged away. Yes, it's still good to reassure loved ones of their safety, which they may still call into question after a traumatic incident, but there's more to it than that. Because of this stigma, a person may suffer from PTSD in isolation, afraid to open up about their struggle.

It's this struggle that Jim Watkins aims to explore in his one-man show, France to Vietnam: Nightmares of a Baby Boomer. In his case, his PTSD stems from an all-too-familiar place: his time serving in the military.

"The central point (of my play) is about my experiences in Vietnam," said Watkins. "I try to give a well-rounded look at the issues that I face in my life, and the outcome. ... I was in the Air Force, and spent a year in Vietnam, from August ‘70 to August ‘71. ... Back in those days, PTSD was known - they used to call it ‘shell shock,' and other names, but there wasn't a real push to identify it among the guys, and to treat it. So, guys like me, you know, I just thought I could work it out myself, and so I did. It was a tough road, and it cost me a couple marriages, and a lot of pain through my life. In this play, I try to treat it honestly, but not to be so graphic about it."

Watkins is quick to note that France to Vietnam is a work in progress, an opportunity granted him in late November to put up a show at Dukesbay Theater. Dukesbay is a small theater company that's dedicated to putting on new works by passionate artists, and when given the chance to tell his life story in an intimate setting, Watkins jumped at the chance, getting down to furiously writing the show in the months leading to its February debut. Watkins is no stranger to the theater, though, having co-founded the Vagabond Theatre company in 1980 at the University of Puget Sound. France to Vietnam is not only starring Watkins, but will be directed and written by him as well.

A discussion will follow each performance of France to Vietnam, allowing for yet more open dialogue about PTSD and its real-world effects to occur. Tickets are $5 for a 55-minute show, and I think that's more than reasonable to see a brand new play being put up, especially one about a topic that needs far more attention than what it normally gets. As for those post-show discussions, I would guess that some of the most edifying aspects of France to Vietnam will happen when more walls get brought down and the sharing of humanity can begin.

FRANCE TO VIETNAM: NIGHTMARES OF A BABY BOOMER, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 9-11, $5, Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253.561.7633, 

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