On Stage

The Ghosts of Tonkin

Reliving history, with hindsight

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From the start of Bellingham TheatreWorks’ second production, The Ghosts of Tonkin, audiences will be aware there won’t be a happy ending. That’s because the play—which can be seen Aug. 29-30 at Bellingham High School before touring in Oregon—focuses on the unfortunate origins of the Vietnam War, which would go on to kill more than two million people. We caught up with playwright Steve Lyons to find out more about the play’s subject matter—namely Oregon senator Wayne Morse, an outspoken critic of the resolution that authorized military intervention in Vietnam.

Cascadia Weekly: What was your initial interest in what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964?
Steve Lyons:I wrote The Ghosts of Tonkin in 2002. I would have never written it if we had not invaded Iraq. When the Iraq War began, people drew an analogy between the genesis of that war, and the beginnings of the Vietnam War. News media in the United States eventually asserted that the “weapons of mass destruction” of the Iraq War were the moral equivalent of the “Gulf of Tonkin” of the Vietnam War. I had no idea what they were talking about, but it made me curious to learn more about the origins of the Vietnam War. That curiosity eventually led to this script.

CW: What was the biggest catalyst for the Vietnam War?
SL: In the play, we witness a pivotal moment in history: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution senate hearing. In that hearing, Wayne Morse went toe-to-toe with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Unfortunately, McNamara won. If the senate Foreign Relations Committee had followed the advice of Morse on the morning of Aug. 4, 1964, the world in which we live would be radically different. The historic significance of what Senator Morse attempted to do—stop the Vietnam War before it started—cannot be overemphasized.

CW: How did you find a story amid all of the historical information?
SL: If my research into the genesis of the Vietnam War had simply revealed a bunch of guys in Washington D.C. making a really bad decision, I would have not written this play. It’s sad that that happened, but it is not a story. Goliath is not a story. You need David to make it a story. I found my David in the form of Senator Morse. Because Morse singlehandedly battled this monster, you now have a stage-worthy, epic story.

Finding virtue in my bad guy, Secretary of Defense McNamara, provided a real challenge. He misled us into a war that ultimately killed two million people. Part of the goal as a writer in wading through all this source material was searching for that kernel of goodness in McNamara.

CW: In the play, a character named Doris moves a lot of the action forward (even though she’s dead). What was the inspiration for her character?
SL: The spirit of Doris is strongly influenced by the real-life journey of Daniel Ellsberg, who remains an inspiration for this character.

CW: The performances will include post-play discussions with Vietnam vets and others. What do you hope will be the outcome of those discussions?
SL: I am sure this play will be very emotional for vets and anyone who was personally touched by the Vietnam War. Audience members may have had a loved one who died in Vietnam. They may have lost their legs in Vietnam. Serious, heartbreaking stuff. And then in the play you witness the casual manner in which our leaders brought this tragedy upon the country. It is infuriating. I look forward to learning from vets how (and if) they forgive such a thing and move on.

CW: This is Bellingham TheatreWorks second production. What’s in the future for the company?
SL: The driving artistic force of Bellingham TheatreWorks is artistic director Mark Kuntz. Because of his faculty position at WWU, we are limited to summer productions and perhaps a production right after Christmas break.

West Coast Wellness
More On Stage...
Acting Out
The benefits of summer school

My sister has four kids, and has said many times that the last thing she wants to hear from them when school is out for the summer and they don’t face the daily rigors of institutionalized education is “I’m bored.” She doesn’t live in Bellingham, but if she did, I’d direct her to the…

more »
Manifesto
An underwater exploration of motherhood

“What does it feel like to get inside the mind and body of a California red sea cucumber?” is not a question I ever thought I’d ask. 

That changed when I received a press release from analytical-chemist-turned-multi-disciplinary- performance-artist Ilvs Strauss about Manifesto, a show…

more »
Moon Landing
Out and about with iDiOM Theater

When The Emperor of the Moon opens Thurs., June 15 at Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park, it will be the first time the 15-year-old iDiOM Theater has ever presented a show in the great outdoors.

A number of other firsts are associated with the production, as well. For example, the comedy…

more »
Events
Today
Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

5:00pm|Vanier Park

Fatal Attraction

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Noises Off

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

The Emperor of the Moon

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Chuckanut Writers Conference

10:00am|Whatcom Community College

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Sin & Gin Tours

5:30pm|Downtown Bellingham

Keys for Kids

5:30pm|La Conner Flats

Off the Charts!

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Fool Me Twice

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Lynden Breakfast

8:00am|Lynden Community Center

Padden Triathlon

8:30am|Lake Padden Park

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Sumas Community Days

10:00am|Sumas City Park

What's the Point?

10:00am|Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve

Imagine This! Home and Landscape Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

York Community Farm Celebration

11:00am|York Community Farm

Jelly and Sorbet Class

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

The Art of Bonsai

11:00am|Azusa Farm & Gardens

Farm to Glass

12:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

A Japanese Touch

1:00pm|North Fork Library

Bellingham Beer & Live Music Festival

2:00pm|North Bellingham Golf Course

High Tea

3:00pm|Majestic Inn

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Summer Moments Party and Potluck

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Run Like a Girl

5:30pm|Riverwalk Plaza

Tiny TED Talks

7:00pm|Point Roberts Library

Village Books
Tomorrow
Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

5:00pm|Vanier Park

Noises Off

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Off the Charts!

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Gardens of Note

10:00am|Mount Vernon

Vaxxed Bus Stop

10:00am|Civic Stadium, Bloedel Donovan

Forest Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Park

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Local efforts step up to protect Salish Sea orcas

12:00pm

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Audubon at the Museum

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Peace Weavers

4:00pm|Village Books

Refugee Support

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Village Books Trove
Monday
Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

5:00pm|Vanier Park

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Pakistani Cuisine

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Northwood Steak and Crab Trove Village Books Lester and Hyldahl