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The Trial of Jane Fonda, Park Theatre, review: ‘thinly vieled Twelve Angry Men rehash’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 July 2016

Anne Archer stars as Jane Fonda. Picture: Keith Pattison.

Anne Archer stars as Jane Fonda. Picture: Keith Pattison.

Keith Pattison

Anne Archer stars as ‘Hanoi Jane’ but gives ‘too little depth of characterisation’

In the wake of the Chilcot report, there’s certainly something timely about The Trial of Jane Fonda.

Based upon a contentious meeting between the peacenik actress and six US Vietnam veterans in 1988, it is laden with polemical musings on war, sacrifice, patriotism and what constitutes a “clear and present threat”.

But for all its noble intentions, Terry Jastrow’s narrative is a thinly-veiled rehash of Twelve Angry Men – with only half the men, and half the subtlety.

From the moment Fonda (played by Anne Archer, of Fatal Attraction fame) appears before the backdrop of a fractured US flag, you just know her calm, borderline-smug liberal philosophy will win over the chair-throwing dramatics of her antagonists.

Their objections boil down to an anti-war crusade Fonda made to North Vietnam in 1972, where she was infamously pictured laughing on top of a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun.

Branded “Hanoi Jane” back in the West, the previously idolised Barbarella babe became the star of urinal mats used by American soldiers, who later boycotted her films and even threatened their production.

Cussing their way around a circle of chairs, the veterans under Joe Harmston’s direction are an indistinct bunch.

It’s a shame, because while efforts are made to prove this isn’t just a group of gun-loving rednecks – personalities range from Alex Gaumond’s thoughtful Princeton lawyer to Paul Herzberg’s explosive Italian-American bar owner – they largely take turns calling Fonda a pot-smoking, promiscuous traitor, signposted by monologues beginning, “Well here’s what I think lady.”

With Archer’s slightly glazed demeanour, this leaves too little depth of characterisation.

Most emotion comes from projected archive footage of the real Fonda walking the streets of Hanoi.

From Miss Saigon to Apocalypse Now, the Vietnam War has an imperious history on stage and in film.

Still, the heart of Fonda’s saga has been relatively untouched, and a bold, dynamic unpacking of her story would be a worthy addition to the canon.

Unfortunately, this isn’t it.

Rating: 2/5 stars


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