By Holli Harms
War Words, these are true stories of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the best of us and the worst of us.
War is something we start again and again and say we don’t want, sending our people into the arena of an alternate reality to end them. These are their stories, those that come back from that challenge having lived with unimaginable rituals of death, the impatience and disregard of the human body, the negation of the person that was.
War is an abhorrent absurdity where in order to survive, we experience the incredible adaptability of humans to any situation but permanently brand the person, some deeper than others, so that when they leave, they need to relearn once again how to live in non-war reality.
The war in Iraq lasted for eight years and Afghanistan for twenty years. Human nature wants to naturally put it behind us, to close the book, but so many Americans served that the war wounds still fester and ooze in the lives of those who served. We don’t really know all that went on in the soul of the person who served. But it’s always been like that. The wars of WWII and Korea left the soldiers in my memory and what held for them holds for those today. We get small insights from essays here and there and novels, and then there is Hollywood. One of the stories on stage in this production of the stunning War Words is of a woman whose job it was to disarm IEDs, much like the characters in The Hurt Locker. She lets us know that was not her reality. It was a Hollywood reality.
War Words is an honest telling by those who were there of their experiences, by the families who had to endure the pain of separation along with them, and by those Afghani helping the United States against the Taliban who put their own families in harm’s way.
Playwright Michelle Kholos Brooks held in-depth interviews with men and women who served in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. She clearly created a safe space for them. These stories are raw, stories of unimaginable atrocities, of heart-wrenching horrors, of the undeniable depth and beauty of endurance and humanity. They are also stories of our ability to survive and move forward, to forgive and learn how to live in a world after relinquishing the daily killing required of being a soldier. There’s a saying in the Army that becomes a daily mantra, “Shit happens and then you drive on.” Reciting it allows a person to survive.
After the surviving though, comes a reckoning of the pain and scars left on the body, heart, and mind that cannot be left on the side of the road. Every person experiencing that trauma must find a way to re-live despite the emotional deformity within both the individual and their loved ones.
This is a production everyone needs to see as we are all culpable. The battle scars will be visible and painful up there on the stage, but there is more than that this production has to share. At the core of War Words is the proclamation of faith we humans have in ourselves, in the world, and in the concepts of love and friendship. The faith in humanity that we maintain even when looking into the belly of hell.
The performers are an ensemble of perfection. Two of them actually served in Iraq. This is not acting, this is being, this is sharing. The direction is more hands-off than on as it allows the performers to interact with their truth and honesty accompanied by exquisite and military precise choreography that allows the performers their space to present. Also on stage is one performer who never speaks, Andrew Beall, whose Foley work enhances the words conjuring up the sounds of gunshots and the music of the region. His presence there is a sublime interweaving of sound and music.
This is a majestic ensemble work; words, direction, acting, choreography, and lighting congealing to enhance the stories but never overpower their truths.
You may or may not have served, but for both this presentation is for you, and even more so with the wars we now face. Afterwards, it will require something of you. It will require you to examine yourself, to reach out to all those around you, and to touch all that you love. It is a must-see.
With: David Alan Basche, Maggie Bofill, Donald Calliste, John Concado, Jennean Farmer, Bethany Geraghty, Brandon Jones, Kevin Loreque, Matthew Nikitow, Haythem Noor, Alysia Reiner, Joshua David Robinson, John Siciliano, and Jakob Von Eichel
Creative Team: Scenic Design by Brian Dudkiewicz , Costume Design by Julia Squier, Lighting Design by Elaine Wong, Sound Design by Janet Bentley and Andy Evan Cohen, Choreography by Sarah Grace Houston, Percussion Orchestration by Mariana Ramirez, percussion and additional orchestrations by Andrew Beall, Production Manager Kleo Mitrokostas, and Production Stage Manager Madeleine Blossom
Performances Tuesday – Saturday at 7pm, with Matinees Saturday at 3pm and Sundays at 3pm ( except for December 3rd) Special Sunday evening
War Words running time 90 minutes no intermission
November 14th runs through December 17 at A.R.T./New York ( 502 West 53rd Street)