Post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, physical abuse, drugs, depression, self-disgust, alcoholism. These are ordeals that our veterans and our military trainees face each and every day. “War Stories: A Veteran’s Project” was a performance presented in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts’ Black Box theater that showed this aspect of military life. This startling performance ran from Friday, March 31 through Saturday, April 1, and featured a group made up of 14 Veterans and two civilians, who shared their “War Stories” in the intimate theater space.
For some of these brave men and women, their battles began years after they joined the military, or years before they even knew what a veteran was. The first speaker’s story was one of the latter and the most startling, if only because of the feeling of chaos the show began with. The lights dimmed. The audience members’ voices slowly dropped into a respectful silence. Then, a harsh commanding voice exploded into the room, calling roll and filling the theater space with a flurry of movement, sound and light that made names too hard to catch, faces turn too quickly to see, and a feeling of barely controlled, heart-pumping chaos fill every space in the suddenly too-small room.
Into this sudden flurry of movement and sound came the voice of Mineman 3rd Class Navy Linda Sue Blackwood with the words, “I was continuously sexually molested at the age of four until I left home by my father.” All movement and sound ceased.
This was how the night progressed. Each of the 16 speakers stepped forward, some individually and others in groups and between each speaking segment would come a cacophony of sound and movement that formed small breaks in the program. These segments mimicked the veteran’s time in basic training, the sound contributing to the cacophony continuously changing to reflect what they were doing. During their first phone calls home, it was the sound of 16 phones ringing at an incredibly high decibel followed by 16 voices answering and talking loudly over each other, voices rising and rising until every word and voice was completely indistinguishable from the next. Other interruptions showed their steadily growing frustration, the noise caused by the social actors throwing their phones, screaming and raging across the stage and later explosively throwing their metal chairs into a bonfire-type pile.
These segments, filled with pure walls of irritating noise, mimicked the internal confusion, desperation and chaos that each of these individuals were feeling, but otherwise only served to detract from the veteran’s stories. The sound would go on too long and this would often make the speaker’s first sentences unintelligible and when each speaker had only a few short minutes to speak, one sentence is an immense loss.
“The show is powerful,” Rachel McGee ’15, who returned to Fairfield to see the show, observed. “It’s a lesson in humanity. We think about the military and those who serve as people fighting on the battlefield, but they continue to fight and struggle when they return home, and we rarely think of that.”
The diversity of the social actor’s stories made the show even more striking. Ronald Ko, E5 Army was an immigrant who joined the Army to repay America for taking in his family, but during his service he was discharged due to his development of a drugs and alcohol addiction. Ko then spent years going in and out of prison until he found Homes for the Brave, the organization that links all of these veterans and civilians together, which, according to their website, focuses on veterans but helps people of all backgrounds access jobs, mental health services, housing and addiction assistance. Now, he has been clean for 18 months and is open that he still struggles with his war every day, something that civilian Kenmooah Gibson can also relate to. Gibson never served in the military. After his mother died, he lost control of his life and began to self-medicate and soon found that he couldn’t stop. Then, just like Ko and Sue-Blackwood, he found Homes for the Brave and they helped him put his life back on track.
As our Veterans train to fight in a national war, they are already fighting their personal ones. When they return and receive a discharge after doing their service, the war does not end, at times it only gets harder.
The show portrayed that in a “beautiful intersection of theater and politics that resulted in a show that was both raw and powerful,” observed Elizabeth Sheehan ’17, who continued on to say that “[the social actors] were wonderful storytellers, and that’s the best way to connect with people.”
It is the moments when the speakers share their stories that will draw people to this show, and the only complaints came from audience members wishing that the show had focused more on these stories and less on the flashy and at times unnecessary and distracting, interruptions.