THEATER OF WAR Opens a Dialogue about the Impact of Battle on Soldiers and Their Families

This is the kind of blog entry I love to write.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reviewing a play or a musical, especially if it’s excellent.  But to be able to tell you about a socially relevant theatre project is exciting!

On Thursday, September 7th, the University of Cincinnati will host a production of THEATER OF WAR at 7pm.   This innovative public health project features the ancient play, AJAX by Sophocles, as a point of discussion about the impact of military trauma on those who serve and the people who love them.

Assistant Professor of Classics, Lauren Ginsberg, has been fascinated by this project for a long time.  With her love for classic texts and her family’s military background (both of her grandfathers served), she had a particular interest in the piece. But because originally the piece was performed exclusively at military bases, it didn’t seem likely that she’d be able to bring it to UC.

But when a friend of hers, a professor at Tulane University, hosted the production there as part of the “Soldiers and Civilians Tour,” she began to seriously pursue it.  And luckily for us, the Artistic Director and creator of the project Bryan Doerries, was available for attend and take part. (He’s a graduate of Kenyon University, like CCM Acting’s Brant Russell.) Doerries will play the chorus and act as the facilitator while prolific television and film actor, David Strathairn (“The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,” “Good Night and Good Luck,” “Lincoln,” “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “LA Confidential,” and dozens more) will play Ajax.

Sophocles AJAX tells the story of a soldier who becomes depressed near the end of The Trojan War, after the death of Achilles, his best friend. The play shows him struggling with survivor’s guilt and feelings of betrayal when being passed being given Achilles’ armor, prompting Ajax to attempt to murder his commanding officer. He fails and ultimately takes his own life.  Chronicling not only the events leading up to his suicide, the play also details how his wife and troops attempt to intervene before it’s too late.

“It has been suggested that ancient Greek drama was a form of storytelling and ritual reintegration for combat veterans by combat veterans.”  As a counselor myself, I am fascinated by the idea that the issues that face our veterans today mirror those from the 5th Century.  It was likely used as a public health tool, similar to the way Doerries is using it now – accompanied by talk-backs and town hall discussions.  The UC production will feature Dr. Kathleen Chard, a nationally recognized PTSD expert from the VA Hospital in Ft. Thomas, KY, during the post-show discussion.

“This is a very collaborative effort financially,” says Ginsberg.  Through generous donations from the Office of the Provost, the Department of Classics, The CCM Harmony Fund, the TAFT Research Center, the Helen Weinberger Center for the Study of Drama and Playwriting, and the A&S Dean’s Office, the one-night-only performance is free and open to all.  The Patricia Corbett Theatre seats about 400 people; all are welcome.

I am personally hopeful – as someone who works with people who have experienced all kinds of trauma – that this event can continue a dialogue about how we as a community can help those suffering from PTSD and its symptoms.  I am also very excited to see theatre being used to make an impact on culture.  This sounds a terrific event and I hope you’ll attend.

For more information about this production, email Lauren Ginsberg.  The performance is on Thursday, September 7th at 7:00 pm in the Patricia Corbett Theatre in CCM Village at the University of Cincinnati.  More information about THEATER OF WAR can be found here and here.