It’s a mixed verdict for “Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion.” The actress’s little-known, unrecorded 1988 confrontation with veterans still furious at “Hanoi Jane” is imagined by writer Terry Jastrow as sort of a canned documentary pageant, with stock types mouthing attitudes rather than characters growing and changing. The evening never quite catches fire, but as a primer on the Vietnam era at home and abroad it’s pretty interesting, probably especially so for those who never lived through it.
Production’s ace in the hole is a riveting collection of film clips aired overhead – contemporary news reports; footage of the infamous trips to North Vietnam – to help bring the period to vivid life, itself almost justifying a trip to the Edgemar Center for the Arts.
But the dramatic event is pallid.
Waterbury, Conn. protesters were determined to flummox local location shooting of the De Niro co-starrer “Stanley & Iris.” That the pic got made as planned suggests something fundamental happened during the June 18 powwow at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, but Jastrow’s version doesn’t really convince. It’s too chronologically structured, more Robert’s-Rules-tidy than we’d expect of any true-to-life verbal brawl.
Had fewer vets been included in this version of the meeting, it might have been easier to assign them recognizable personas and distinct viewpoints. As it is, the seven antagonists – believably impersonated by the ensemble chosen by Jastrow and co-director Michelle Danner – remain largely a blur. Each alternates between antagonism and sympathy toward Fonda (Anne Archer) in ways impossible to chart.
Archer herself is a rather one-dimensional Joan of Arc, ringingly re-creating such famous moments as the “Klute” Oscar acceptance and Tokyo Rose-tinged broadcast from Hanoi.
But though sincerity and regret come through in more or less equal measure, Fonda as a character makes no more genuine discoveries in the course of the running time than do the ex-servicemen. It all feels programmed, the developments pre-processed.
On the evidence here, the entire incident boiled down to these lyrics from Vietnam-era pop hit “Reach Out of the Darkness”: “I knew a man that I did not care for/And then one day this man gave me a call/We sat and talked about things on our mind/And now this man he is a friend of mine.”
A happy sentiment, but not a very scintillating one to witness being played out.