Malcolm Cowley once described the journalist and novelist Josephine Herbst as the “talkingest woman” he had ever met. Playwright Mac Wellman has charged her garrulous ghost with the narration of Two September, an uneasy amalgam of Herbst’s life and American involvement in Vietnam in the 1940s. As Herbst (Jayne Haynes) relates her brief years working in the intelligence services, she also introduces us to the young Ho Chi Minh (Arthur Acuï¿½a) and two Office of Strategic Services officials who interact with him. Though Wellman seems greatly taken with Herbst and supplies Haynes with playful, salty speeches, her scenes pale in comparison to Acuï¿½a’s, who lends a forceful stillness to Ho.
Two September continues Wellman’s recent trend away from the heady language of his earlier plays and toward a more characterological drama, but his writing style remains intelligent and elliptical, sometimes naggingly so. As directed by Loy Arcenas, the play never clarifies how Herbst and Ho relate to one another and why they inhabit the same theatrical space. Of course, it wouldn’t be like Wellman to make the parallels too evident. He may be writing a history play, but as Herbst observes, history is “a threadbare fabric, full of holes, tears, and rents.”