Saturday, April 22, 2017

Memo from the RTC: Theater of War

Published in The WAVE April 21, 2017

Memo from the RTC:  Theater of War
By Norm Scott

Monday night war came to the Post Theater in Fort Tilden --- the Trojan War of Greek mythology, which some historians claim is based on a real war around 1184 BC when there are signs the site of Troy was burned. In the 5th century – around 440 BCE, Greek general Sophocles wrote a series of tragedies, one of which was about Ajax, a mythic warrior of great strength, who, suffering from the internal and external ravages of war, committed suicide. The play may be our earliest evidence that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has existed in various forms since the dawn of war, which unfortunately may correspond with the dawn of mankind. That the strongest warrior succumbs to internal disorder is a major lesson. Sophocles was a Greek general (elected by the way) writing in the midst of a war that was already 80 years old, so his writing tragedies based on ancient wars, not the one he was fighting at the time, may be a sign of his attempt to relieve his own PTSD and that of his soldiers.

Theater of War (TOW) is a public health project designed to use readings from ancient Greek plays to spark conversations about the impact of wars on the lives of veterans, their families and their communities. TOW goes on tours throughout the nation and the world with a team of actors who read a short section of a relevant play that then sparks the audience to engage in a dialogue that ties the lessons of millenniums to today’s events.

Monday night’s well-attended event at the RTC was co-sponsored by the NYC Department of Veterans’  Services and Department of Cultural Affairs. Bryan Doerries, the artistic director of TOW Productions, has worked with RTC’s Susan Jasper to bring TOW to Rockaway for the past two years and will be taking the Production to 60 venues around the city.

Bryan emceed Monday night’s event which included actors Alex Morf, Amy Ryan and Chris Henry Coffey. (I was thrilled to be able to tell Amy how much I loved her as Beaddie Russell in The Wire). After the actors perform their piece, they join the audience while a selected panel takes the stage to open the discussion, followed by audience participation, which often goes deep into the issues facing veterans.

What didn’t come up is the ravages of war on society in general. One takeaway of going back 3000 to 2500 years to talk about war is that war has always been with us and, sadly, always will be.

Going to a Theater of War event should not be missed. Go to to check on future productions. Bryan Doerries’ book, The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today is published by Alfred A. Knopf.

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