Kelly Dougherty fought in a war she did not support. Tammy Duckworth lost both her legs, but not her positive outlook on life. Jon Soltz wanted to be the first to lead the convoy into Iraq. Ivan Medina speaks out for the twin brother he lost in the war.
They are a new generation of war veterans who served in Iraq. Their stories of service, loss and the struggle of returning home are real and 11 theater students breathe life into them on stage in the Temple Theater production, In Conflict.
Adapted from former Philadelphia Daily News reporter Yvonne Latty’s 2006 book, In Conflict: Iraq Veterans Speak Out on Duty, Loss and the Fight to Stay Alive, the world premiere production opens Temple Theater’s 40th anniversary season and runs through Oct. 13.
Written and directed by Temple Theater’s artistic director and professor of directing and creativity Douglas C. Wager, the play, through a collection of 17 monologues, captures Latty’s journey to find and record the firsthand accounts of Iraq war veterans
The production has also been entered into The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, a national theater education program that rewards exemplary work in college-level theaters.
“It’s been an incredible experience to see my interviews come to life,” Latty said of the production. “It’s a sign that America is ready to really listen to these men and women, and not only listen to them but sit with them in cafes, in their living rooms, in bars and Indian reservations, cars and all the places that I went. I feel like America is ready to come with me there now.”
In writing the book, Latty said her main goal was to put a human face behind the tally of soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq.
“No matter what you think about the war, whether you support it or [are] against it, there are people whose lives have been damaged by it,” Latty said. “I think that is what you see when you see the play and when you read the book.”
A year ago, after reading a review about Latty’s book in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Wager immediately contacted her. He said the book’s subject matter and Latty’s concerted effort to gather a wide, cross-section of people who serve in the military intrigued him.
“It is not a pro-war or anti-war book. It’s not about politics. It’s really a record of human experience,” Wager said.
The two met for coffee, resulting in In Conflict coming to the stage.
To recreate the intonations of each veteran’s voice, Wager mainly used the original audio tapes and transcribed notes from Latty’s interviews rather than the book. Through a series of workshops, the student actors studied the way their respective veterans actually spoke.
Sophomore theater and political science double major Danielle Pinnock, who plays Army Reserves Sgt. Lisa Haynes, said the rehearsal process was unconventional, but fun.
“We had to listen religiously to our people. My [character] is from Oklahoma so I was listening to get the accent and certain phrases she used,” Pinnock said, adding that the cast also had to transcribe the audio interviews to paper, noting the “ums” and pauses.
Latty also put the cast in contact with their respective veterans.
“It ended up being very much an ensemble-created project. The actors had a lot of authority over the shaping of their text,” Wager said.
The final script included sections of the audio interviews used in the play that are not found in the book and material from the students’ personal conversations with the veterans, Wager added.
Pinnock said her role in the show has changed her strong political views on the war.
“I was very anti-war without really knowing what was going on there” she said. “[In Conflict] has not made anti-war or pro-war, it’s made me more pro-troops.”
Wager said the play’s most important lesson is to listen.
“[The soldiers] come back and go into this void of benign neglect where no really wants to hear what they have to say,” he said. “They want people to respect the fact that they risked their lives and put themselves in harm’s way for democratic ideals, or to support their family, or to go to college or for whatever reason they decide to join the military.”
Following the Oct. 13 matinee, 10 of the veterans who are being portrayed in the play will participate in a roundtable discussion with students and faculty in the atrium of Annenberg Hall.
Malaika T. Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.