Monday, July 21, 2014
The List of Wars
Randy Granger and I had hoped to perform An Iliad together in the Asheville area this summer, but things kept falling through. Two venues in Asheville canceled, and then some of Randy's gigs went away and he could not make the trip to North Carolina. Just as it seemed the play would be on hiatus for the summer, a conservatory connection living in the area helped make a show happen, and so it was that An Iliad came to Black Mountain. (I also gave a free show in Cherokee back in June.)
The White Horse is a former car dealership which has for several years been a performance venue serving beer and wine. For a show like An Iliad, it works very well, offering easy interaction between the actor and the spectators. Not my strongest run at the beginning, mainly because I was trying to play with a very different space, but the performance found its groove.
Afterwards, I enjoyed a long conversation with a couple of people about The List.
One of the memorable features of this play is a long recitation of major wars and revolutions around the world, starting with the conquest of Sumer and going up through the current civil war in Syria. For several minutes, the list goes on, a solemn litany of major conflicts in human history.
In Las Cruces, a combat veteran told me that as he listened to The List he had been enjoying it as theatre, but when I named the war he himself had fought (Vietnam) it took him by surprise, like a button had been pushed, his experience had been recognized and united with human history past and future. Similar testimonies taught me that The List is an important, almost sacred part of the play, pointing a way toward reconciliation and healing, however imperfect.
Last night, in Black Mountain, the conversation raised an interesting question about The List: what about veterans of non-military conflicts? This was raised by a woman who had gone through Hurricane Katrina, the chaos and the turmoil that followed, the destruction of her home and her society. Her recent decision to leave her home city, the city her family had lived in for generations, for the safety of her young son and to recover from PTSD, was clearly one that had cost her personally. As powerful as The List was, she said, she wanted to be included. She had never worn a uniform or been trained or deployed to a war zone, but she had been in one and felt herself altered forever.
Joining our conversation was a man who had helped counsel first-responders after the attacks of September 11. Here was another occasion when civilians, people not trained for battlefields, were abruptly plunged into The Shit.
9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are not included in The List. The List focuses on military conflicts and a few major social revolutions. I took the liberty of adding "Indian Removal" to The List, as it seemed improper to exclude that horror - the long walk, the trail of tears, let's just call it ethnic cleansing. Especially here in Cherokee country. It feels appropriate to include it since at least one side was in uniform, while on the other side civilians were killed or forced to march, many of them unprepared for conflict with a large army. The line between soldier and civilian is cruelly fluid, and this is not just a feature of modern warfare. Still. The List is, for practical reasons, limited to military conflicts and does not include the suffering of those plunged into warfare unprepared, or those whose lives are stripped by natural disasters with consequences similar to the effects of war.
And those folks need healing, too.