by Howard Petrick
This week we are taking a closer look at some of the performers coming to the 2012 Rogue Festival, beginning with Howard Petrick and his show Breaking Rank! Check back here every day through Thursday for more articles & soon for Rogue reviews!
Breaking Rank! is the story of one soldier’s fight for the right to speak out against the Vietnam War while knowing that he might have to go and fight in it. It shows a military bureaucracy trying to figure out how to conduct a war with a growing number of draftees who are starting to question the whole conflict.
Howard Petrick was an anti-Vietnam War activist who in 1965 received a draft notice and decided to go into the army rather than to prison. He makes it clear at the induction center that he is opposed to the war and agrees to be inducted, but refuses to provide any information about himself except his name. It takes him two trips to the induction center before the government can figure out how to deal with this problem. In the nine months between these dates he is visited by the FBI, decides to become a socialist, gets arrested for selling anti-war literature without a peddlers license, and is hired for the first well-paid civil service job he truly enjoys – doing liver transplants on dogs.
Once in the Army at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, Private Petrick is the model soldier until the subject of Vietnam comes up. His friendship with an ex-school teacher, Billy Moen, ignites a spark that launches an anti-war movement in the barracks and is part of the movement that will spread throughout the military. A class on Vietnam’s history creates problems for the instructor whose simplistic explanations for the war is no match for guys who disagree. Discussions about the war and why “we” have to fight it becomes the centre of barracks life.
A snap decision by a clerk makes Petrick and Moen cooks. A snap decision by Petrick adds to army culinary lore. Petrick’s anti-war activities lead to a confrontation with Military Intelligence and threats of court-martial. While the Pentagon tries to figure out what to do with Pfc. Petrick, the model draftee who doesn’t disobey orders or break any rules, Petrick takes advantage of every opportunity he gets to speak out against the war.
In Petrick’s solo performance, he portrays over twenty characters, both career soldiers who are willing to fight the war without question and young men that are drafted and given no choice but to fight. At the heart of it all is the question of the “citizen army” and if conscripts still have constitutional rights?
Breaking Rank! is the story of my twenty months in the Army during the Vietnam War. I’m often asked how the show came about. It happened by accident and with the help of the remarkably talented David Ford at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco. In 2007, I decided to take a writing class at The Marsh Theater, not with any intention of doing a theater piece, but to see how Mr. Ford worked with people to get their stories. The next thing I knew he had me writing up my experiences as an anti-war soldier. I thought I might have 15 minutes of humorous anecdotes, but by the end of class, I had a story that was clearly more than that. Other members of the class, all younger, began talking about their memories of the anti-Vietnam War movement. It became apparent that I had an experience that was unique and a story about an aspect of American history that many people were not aware of.
In the last four years, I have worked with and met some very talented people including my director Mark Kenward, who helped me edit the story down to a fast-paced one hour while still keeping the humor and political content. In the last four years, I have presented variations of the show to thousands of people at fringe festivals throughout North America and had a successful eight-week run at The Marsh Theater in Berkeley last fall. Most gratifying has been the response from military veterans, WWII through Afghanistan, who have given me praise for being able to “capture the guys I served with.”
Although the show is laced with humorous situations its message is that we can stand up for our rights and win, including protesting against the wars that are supposedly carried out to protect them. In a time when civil liberties are suspended to fight against terrorism, whistleblowers are accused of being traitors, and American citizens can be guilty and executed without a trial, the fight to maintain our constitutional rights is more important than ever.
Breaking Rank! plays Friday, 3/2, at 10:00 PM; Saturday, 3/3, at 8:30 PM; Wednesday, 3/7, at 8:30 PM; Friday, 3/9, at 7:00 PM; Saturday, 3/10, at 4:00 PM; at the Fresno Rogue Festival, Starline venue, 833 Fern Avenue.
Watch for more Rogue articles this week, as well as Rogue reviews beginning this weekend. Check out our Rogue Performances event page for info on more of the performers and our Rogue Preview article.