Age-old wisdom: Greek plays help service members understand war's impact
June 1, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany -- Suicide, unrecognized loyalty, isolation, revenge and mental anguish are issues that face many service members today.
They also affected warriors and families some 2,500 years ago.
During two performances May 21, the Theater of War group - composed of television, screen and stage actors from the U.S. - introduced Stuttgart military community members to two Greek plays describing the tragedies of war. Following each performance, audience members discussed take-away lessons for today's service members and families in a panel-style discussion.
The two plays, written by Sophocles, a Greek general who often had the plays performed in front of thousands of his soldiers, were performed by cast members of the Theater of War productions.
The first play, "Ajax," was about a warrior who dedicated his life to fighting for Greece, only to be overlooked when it came to receiving deserved recognition. He became so consumed by depression that he contemplated seeking revenge on his commanding officers, but instead took his own life.
The second play, "Philoctetes," was about a soldier who suffered severe mental anguish after being abandoned on a deserted island by his fellow soldiers because he had contracted a debilitating illness.
It takes the cast of four actors about 20 minutes to read each play, with short breaks injected to allow the founder and director of Theater of War, Bryan Doerries, to key the audience in on the readings.
Feedback from the audience also impacts how the actors deliver their lines during the performance.
"How the Soldiers react to various aspects of the plays does influence our performance, because we realize that they relate to certain parts of the plays and we [put] emphasis on that point of connection," said Gretchen Egolf, one of the actors.
"Our hope is that Soldiers and their families will realize from the plays' different scenarios that they are not alone and, as far back as the Trojan Wars, the military has been encountering similar issues," Doerries said.
In Stuttgart, Doerries' hopes were realized when audience members replaced the actors on stage after the readings to share what they took from the plays in relationship to their lives as warriors.
"Soldiers relate to Ajax not getting recognized for his dedication, as oftentimes our actions and commitment to the mission are overlooked," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Cooke, assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Headquarters, Headquarters Company.
"The plays were very insightful as they showed that Soldiers and their families' recognized and addressed situations of war back then that are similar to what we experience today," he added.