“Theater of War: Texas” is presented by the Theater of War with Bryan Doerries as both director and producer and Marjolaine Goldsmith as production coordinator. As with their other productions, it consists of two parts—a dramatic reading of the Greek dramatist Sophocles’ plays “Ajax” and “Philoctetes,” the latter winning the Athenian equivalent of a modern-day Tony Award. The plays were presented in collaboration with Department of Veteran’s Affairs in Texas.
How can an ancient Greek playwright be relevant to modern day veterans? To understand how it could be meaningful in today’s world, just remember the plight of soldiers in combat is a universal theme from the beginning of history. When Sophocles was writing, Greece was involved in several wars—some were lost and some were won. The scenes from “Ajax” deal with PTSD. Ajax has just lost his best friend and cousin, Achilles, at the end of nine years of the Trojan War. When Achilles’ armor is presented to Odysseus, Ajax is distraught. Ajax was by far the better soldier and leader, but Odysseus was the better speaker, so he won the armor. Ajax decides to kill all the generals who did this to him, but instead, blinded by Athena, he inadvertently kills and tortures the local livestock. His wife, or concubine, pleads with Ajax’s men to help their leader since he has threatened suicide. She is terrified he will hurt her or their son. In the end, Ajax shamed by his actions throws himself on a sword and dies. The play looks at not only the horrors of war and how it affects those who fight but also how it affects their families who live with the torment left in the minds of their loved ones. It also portrays the shallowness of the generals who often never take part in the bloodiest battles and politicians who ride on the crest of the bravery of the soldiers.
Frankie Faison plays the long suffering Philoctetes with wisdom and compassion.
In his dramatic reading, Glenn Davis mirrors the agony and pain of Ajax and is truly compelling. Taylor Shilling plays his wife, Tecmessa, with compassion that makes the viewer empathetic to her ordeal. Her performance is touchingly sad. Nyasha Hatendi plays Teucer, Ajax’s brother and fellow soldier. Hatendi gives a gripping performance as he tries to help Ajax to save him from himself.
“Philoctetes” concerns another tormented soldier of the Trojan War. Philoctetes and Odysseus arrive on the island of Lemnos where Philoctetes is bitten by a sea snake. Odysseus agrees with the others to leave him to die on Lemnos. Nine years later, Odysseus wants Neoptolemus to trick Philoctetes to leave the island where he left him because he needs Philoctetes to help win the war against Troy. Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, develops and strong bond with Philoctetes and offers to help him go home. Heracles appears and tells them that Philoctetes can be cured if he goes to Troy and the Greeks will finally win. This is where the play ends. In the myth, however, Philoctetes goes to Troy, his foot healed. He kills many Trojans, including Paris, which allows the Greeks to conquer Troy. The theme of this play deals with the modern-day idea that no man should be left behind. It also looks at how we treat those who are inflicted both at home and on the battlefield—and how it is often easier to just walk away.
Frankie Faison plays the long suffering Philoctetes with wisdom and compassion. One may think of the weathered-looking veterans who are homeless or live with disabilities, sometimes in institutions, and cut off from those they counted on for support and love. Hatendi plays Neoptolemus and allows us to see his honesty and loyalty as well as his conflicts in dealing with his new friend and leader, Odysseus. Doerries plays the narcissistic Odysseus and Schilling plays Heracles.
Following the readings, several veterans discussed how they related to the two dramas. They included Anne Barlieb who did a tour of duty in Iraq flying a helicopter, and realized she was inadvertently killing children; Craig Manbauman, a former medic; Carlos Figueroa, who talked about a veteran’s isolation; Lauren Black, the wife of veteran; and Zachary Green who dreamed of being a marine, joined but did not go to war and now works to help veterans. After each introduced themselves and spoke about how the scenes affected them, there was an open forum for questions and discussions with other veterans, veterans’ families and professionals who work with veterans.
The night was both insightful and moving. There were tears and many just were glad to have someone with whom they could share their terrors and fears if only for a while. It certainly brought to light how we treat our veterans, not just concerning governmental aid, but how people often react negatively or neutrally to their plight.
Theater of War’s next production will be “Rum and Vodka,” a one-man play.
To find out more about this, other future productions and information of Theater of War Productions go to their website.