The casualties of the American war machine in Vietnam are explored in wrenching depth in Crowded Kitchen Players evocative original play "Mothers Shall But Smile" through Oct. 22 at the Charles A. Brown Ice House, 56 River St., Bethlehem.

"Mothers Shall But Smile" focuses on Andrew, an adjutant to his battalion's colonel on Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam in 1971 and 1972. As part of his duties, he is assigned to investigate the possible wrongful death of a Vietnamese civilian.

Written and directed by Ara Barlieb, the play is inspired by real-life events as described in letters by Barlieb's brother, who was a captain in the U. S. Army stationed at Bien Hoa during the Vietnam War.

Robert Tollinger plays Andrew with sensitivity and awareness, as he slowly becomes appalled at the cruelties inherent in war. Tollingers Andrew becomes the heart of the piece as he butts heads with superiors and tries against all odds to right a wrong. Mothers x

Urging Andrew on is his clerk, Quan Nguyen, who has returned home to Vietnam after being conscripted by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Played by Phuong Tran, Quan is a quietly passionate as he detects Andrews natural compassion and works to guide the young recruit to see the Vietnamese as people. Tran brings out the characters stoic intensity as he straddles the fine line between working within the unbending military and advocating for the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.

As Troy, a Huey helicopter transport pilot who has transformed into a trophy-seeking hunter, Dave Donado is believable both as an awkward and unsure recruit and a battle-hardened flier who gives off an air of angry resentment and callous indifference.

David Oswald gives Colonel Baxter, a classic military officer who wants to preserve the status quo at all costs, plenty of bluster and imbues him with an irritable brusqueness.

Sharon Ferry is the bulldog-like New York Times reporter Norma Edwards who is trying to unearth the truth without alienating her sources. Ferry makes the reporter gritty and feisty with a touch of stridency. Ferrys character also serves as a hard-nosed narrator who ticks off the horrifying statistics of the war.

Bruce Brown is appropriately slick as the oily senator eager to put a positive spin on the war at any cost, exploding when he doesnt get his way.

However Kate MacMillians congresswoman is intent and impassioned as she bitterly brings up concerns about the killing of civilians in the wake of the My Lai massacre.

Rounding out the cast is John Cusamano as a sleazy, but affable privateer who can get anything for anyone.

Video and slides provide context and a visual punch to the gut.

Located in the upstairs theater at the Ice House, the play has a very intimate feel and the cast pulls the audience in.

The play is the 100th play presented by Crowded Kitchen Players.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21; and 2 p.m. Oct. 8, 15 and 22.

Tickets are $20.

For information, call 610-704-6974, or go to