Wasteland at TimeLine Theatre Company | Theater review

A new play about two POWs in Vietnam is harrowing and heartbreaking.



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Nate Burger in Wasteland at TimeLine Theatre Company

Nate Burger in Wasteland at TimeLine Theatre Company Photograph: Lara Goetsch

Nearly 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, there are still more than 1,600 Americans listed by the U.S. government as missing in action in Southeast Asia. About half of them were killed in action, but their bodies were never recovered. It’s haunting to imagine what became of the others. Susan Felder offers up a devastating possibility in this new two-character play, brought vividly to life by director William Brown.

It’s set in the dank underground cell—a hole dug into the earth, really—where Joe (the extraordinary Nate Burger), an American soldier and prisoner of war, has been stashed by his North Vietnamese captors. Though tortured upon arrival, he has been left to languish for months, surviving on a daily ration of rice and rainwater. His tether to sanity is beginning to fray when another soldier, Riley (Steve Haggard), is thrown into the cell next door. Like Joe, we hear Riley’s voice through the wall but never see him, leaving us to wonder at times whether Joe dreamed him up.

Over two years, the men bicker, play games, sing pop songs, suffer breakdowns and talk about everything under the sun, returning repeatedly to the topics of sex and Star Trek. In one achingly lovely scene, they sing “Silent Night” while Joe lies looking up at the moon. Altogether, it’s a harrowing and heartbreaking work, made even more affecting by Burger and Haggard’s beautifully authentic performances.

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