Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Literary Corner: We Were There by David Lawson

This post was written by Allison Hirschlag, staff member of The Civilians, who went to see We Were There by David Lawson, as part of an ongoing series of writings about artists working with the investigative method to create theater. Many thanks to Ally, and to David Lawson for so generously sharing this piece with us.

We Were There by David Lawson quite adeptly captures the fundamental tone of today’s veterans, and part of the reason why is because Lawson implemented investigatory theatre methods akin to those used by The Civilians to develop it.  He interviewed three veterans of the Iraq war with whom he happened to go to high school and wove their stories together to create this innovative theatrical piece.  Chris Croghan, Sameer Khan, and Ryan Groat had vastly different experiences in the army due to where they were stationed, what their jobs were, and why they joined up in the first place, hence their stories varied significantly from man to man.  However, one thing that resonated through each man’s account was how civil everything seemed to be for the most part in a technical wartime environment.  This is not how I ever envisioned a soldier’s life, especially during actual conflict, so it was an incredibly eye-opening experience for me.  I also really appreciated the actors’ portrayals of these men.  They kept their performances simple and matter-of-fact which in turn helped me see the veterans and not the actors.

The way in which Lawson put this piece together was particularly interesting.  He interviewed the veterans separately putting each one on tape, and then interlaced their stories to create a three person dialogue on stage.  Each man has moments where he breaks off and tells a personal story, but there is a palpable comradery among the characters that was created entirely by the playwright, and unless I had stayed for the talk back I would have thought the three men had been interviewed together.  This element really worked to enhance the concept of the piece.  You could almost see these men as they were with their unit; laid back, jokey, and totally on the level.  They had an undeniable connection between them that could only have come from a shared state of mind.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the evening was sticking around for the talkback and listening to actual veterans declare how accurate the play was in depicting what actually goes on in the lives of soldiers, both during active duty and after they’ve returned home.  It seems no matter when you served there is a great amount of routine drilled into you that is hard to let go even after you’ve been home for years.  The veterans commiserated over feeling the need to check for bombs in trash cans and roadways even though they realize they’re no longer in a war-torn country.  And while many people consider this an aspect of PTSD, the veterans both in the play and in the audience claim that it’s just part of what sticks from serving in the army.  Most declared they wouldn’t trade their experiences as soldiers for anything.

There are, however, a few things to consider when looking at this investigative play versus any other play about veterans.  Lawson interviewed men who enlisted voluntarily, and while they varied, they each had strong reasons for wanting to be soldiers.  They also joined up during a less active war time when infantry soldiers were mainly dealing with civilians and keeping an eye out for suspicious activity that might lead to IEDs.  So we are getting a somewhat skewed view in this play, but it’s a window into the lives of the soldiers of today which is an angle that absolutely should be explored.

We Were There is an incredibly topical, poignant piece about the current state of military service in Iraq.  It is a rare thing to hear such personal accounts of what it’s really like to serve in the army today, and this piece captures the mood so well that you can’t help getting engrossed.  I hope David continues developing it because the world is full of preconceived notions on this front, and his play delivers a large dose of clarity.  

No comments:

Post a Comment