When I first reviewed this play 10 months ago, it went by the title Soldiers Don't Cry and featured as characters a group of six volunteer female soldiers, all fresh out of basic training, serving in Vietnam in 1970 as part of the Women's Army Corps. While on a mission to retrieve a mysterious package, they become trapped in an abandoned building and are attacked by North Vietnamese soldiers. There was also a clear inference that the play was based on a true story.
Now the show is being called Ghosts and features a group of six male soldiers, all fresh out of basic training, serving in Vietnam in 1974 as part of an all-black unit. While on a mission to retrieve a mysterious package, they become trapped in an abandoned building and are attacked by North Vietnamese soldiers. So the truth of the original, more interesting story is now in question, as is the validity of the changes to gender and year.
Unfortunately those changes have not helped Layon Gray's troubled drama, which still includes long-winded, overwrought writing in desperate need of dramaturgical assistance; unbalanced storytelling favoring personal backstories at the expense of exploring current relationships and situations; a severe lack of structural dramatic tension; a claptrap false ending, leading to a ridiculous out-of-place flashback sequence; a shoddy depiction of military discipline; and a script that complicates all of this by posing as a piece of theatre when it really wants to be a screenplay.
Performances range from ineffective to competent. Gray's mostly cosmetic direction is further hampered by the claustrophobic theatre space, where one must endure the distracting sound bleed from the rest of the building. There's also the entirely misleading description of the show to consider: "Something is killing an all-black squad in the jungles of Vietnam...and it's not human." Such a statement represents the play as something other than a character drama in a military setting. Most significant, though: What's missing in action here is any clear explanation as to why this show was recast, renamed, and remounted without resolving any of its many serious flaws.
Presented by the Los Angeles African American Repertory Company at the Whitmore Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Sun. 7 p.m. Nov. 20-Dec. 11. (323) 769-5090.