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Marching prose portrays emotions of war

by Lenise Willis

‘ lenise@yesweekly.com

Caught in a dugout — surrounded by enemy fire and kneeling over the remaining pieces of a comrade — a soldier toughens up to survive. Stationed at home with the duty of worrying, a mom awaits her son’s hopeful return from overseas.

No matter the time or circumstance, war touches everyone.

But only those closest to it can really know the depth of its emotional effects.

Attempting to help close the gap between civilian and veteran, Touring Theatre of North Carolina is hosting a staged reading of poetry and prose written by veterans and their family members. Deployed is a one-hour compilation of work — chosen from a call for entries this summer — that depict the experiences of seven wars: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, First Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The entries are fused into a fluid performance by North Carolina poet laureate Joseph Bathanti and Touring Theatre founder Brenda Schleunes.

The goal was to “juxtapose war against war,” Schleunes said.

“Not to order the entries chronologically. War is war, and the effects are the same.”

It is for this reason that Schleunes and Bathanti beautifully edited and ordered the literature and personal experiences so that they would form a more general timeline: pre-war, battle, going home and the aftermath.

The performance begins with a propaganda song, “Oh, for the Love of America,” followed by a veteran recounting red rover sessions and his naïveté before being drafted. “We never imagined our childhood games we’d bleed in rice patties and play hide and seek with the worms.”

The rest of the performance is a touching compilation of raw emotions and experiences, varying from the physical limitations of flying bombers for more than 16 hours a day in World War II missions, to the guilt felt by a Vietnam veteran.

The audience doesn’t always know which war is being referenced, other than the few hints of a desert, jungle, “Baghdad boils,” or “bodies stacked like cardboard.” The effect is an intense focus on the emotions involved, rather than political circumstances.

Allen Broach, a Vietnam veteran and founder of the former Broach Theatre, was one of the participating writers, as well as an audience member last weekend.

“For me, one of the most special things was — after hearing the readings in numerous rehearsals — getting to actually meet the vets who had written the pieces,” Broach said about the numerous vets and writers in the audience last Friday night.

The works of about 40 writers, out of hundreds of entries submitted from across the nation, were chosen, all but six from North Carolina.

“It was really great talking with other veterans and sharing some experiences,” Broach added.

In fact, the presence of veterans and their family in the audience added a touch of sensitivity that could have never been expressed in words. For civilians in the audience, hearing quiet sobs from the crowd made the readings all too real.

“I was not at all surprised by the emotional response of the audience,” Broach said. “Though the actual experiences of combat were many years ago and decades for most of us, the emotions still run deep when remembering the horrors of war.

“I was glad that my older son was able to be in the audience,” Broach continued. “It was a very moving experience for both him and me. I am sure my experiences as a combat veteran affected both of my sons as well as me.”

One recurring notion from both the writers and former veterans in the audience was the idea of healing through writing. “It does help,” Broach said about putting one’s pain to paper. “The ‘importance’ of writing the piece is for the writer.”

But as for the viewer, there’s much to be absorbed from the heartfelt drama and the chance to really feel a part of something.

WANNAgo?

Deployed runs Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at Mack and Mack Showroom, 220 S. Elm St. Tickets are $20; $17 for students, veterans and active military. For tickets or more information visit www.ttnc.org or call 338-2004.

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