Growing up in Los Angeles, John Rosenberg had a fist-pumping, Rambo-inflected pro-U.S. stance on the Vietnam War. “I was super-Mr. America,” Rosenberg recalls, “and then I grew up and stopped being an idiot.”
In 2009, Rosenberg and his “ladyfriend” traveled to Vietnam, where her sister was a journalist in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, before relocating to her native Philadelphia. (“Maybe she was preparing me for what the East Coast was like by taking me to Vietnam,” Rosenberg jokes.) While there, the couple visited Reunification Palace, the home of the president of South Vietnam during the war. Rosenberg’s attention was captured by the gambling room, where the powerful would gather to unwind.
“It’s a very beautiful, comfortable place where powerful people made decisions about life and death,” Rosenberg says. “Something about it really captured my imagination. I really wanted to do a play that took place in the room, but then I realized that there was something strange about an American dude writing a play that took place in a Vietnamese palace.”
Instead, he wrote “The Gambling Room,” the story of two brothers in the U.S. diplomatic corps attempting a coup d’etat in South Vietnam in 1963. “I usually write plays that take place somewhere historically, but they’re all very personal stories,” he says. “So within a story that takes place during these coups and backstabbings and betrayals, there are beautiful things about families or relationships that I was able to dig into and discover and play with.”
The play premieres this Saturday at the Papermill Theater, Rosenberg’s intimate space in the Papermill Arts Collective, a five-story warehouse in Kensington which also features artist workspace, a gallery and a community library. Maintaining the space allows Rosenberg to premiere his own work on a DIY level.
“I don’t want to write plays and send them out and hope they get produced at some point,” Rosenberg says. “If I’m going to put that much work into writing a play, why not fully develop it? I’m just some dude; I can’t expect other people to put on my bullsh— work, so I might as well do it.”
If you go
“The Gambling Room”
May 18-June 9
2825 Ormes St.