A thought-provoking social statement about war and injustice, with compelling acting and an accomplished Directing production.
Plato once said “only the dead have seen the end of war,” expressing with prophetic accuracy his belief that war would always be a constant in the history of human kind. And it’s precisely the topic of war and its timelessness that takes center stage in Theatre Production Seminar’s, Ajax in Iraq, a play that uses Sopocles’ greek tragedy Ajax as a classical backdrop against which playwright Ellen McLaughlin narrates the struggles and fears of a group of American soldiers immersed in the war in Iraq. It only seems fit then that Athena, the immortal Greek goddess of war (played by Katie Bandurski), should be our narrator in this story to remind us with sarcasm and mirth of how our fallen human nature can make us capable of both heroic acts and unspeakable cruelty, with often only a thin line separating the two.
The story mainly focuses on a small battalion of American soldiers fighting in Iraq and struggling to reconcile the daily stress and fear they are suffering with the abstract notions of patriotism, freedom and democracy for which they are told to fight this war. Within this context, A.J. (Grace Bobber), a courageous female soldier, undergoes not only the hardships of war but also the sexual abuse of her commanding officer and the inevitable lure of suicide. Interwoven with this main narrative is Sophocles’ account of Ajax(Joe Schwalb), the best soldier amongst the Greeks who is unjustly denied an award in favor of his peer Odysseus (Alex Hergan-Cox). Maddened by this injustice, he proceeds to torture his aggressors only to realize in his insanity that he has slaughtered a herd of animals instead. Ashamed, he contemplates ending his own life in spite of the petitions of his wife and friends. As the stories both reach their climax, they become increasingly intertwined on stage.
Theatre Teacher Amelia Figg-Franzoi calls the play “three-dimensional chess,” as it shifts back and forth in time and place. She explains that the intertwining stories illustrate that, “the horrors and brutality of war are ancient. They’re not just now, they’re always. That’s the power of mythology, the Greeks, the ancient writing.” Rather than experiencing “distance between the piece if you see classical or mythological characters in it,” the director claims, “It actually should draw you closer to it, because there’s going to be something about it that feels true, there’s gonna be something about it that feels timeless.”
Ajax in Iraq masterfully combines a strong social statement with the story of a personal tragedy. There is a complexity to the script that is discerned in the multitude of themes and layers that the play presents, some of which are only touched upon sweepingly. What does it mean to have thousands of our troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan fighting a war for reasons we constantly need to be reminded about? What is it like for a soldier to fight a war against a hidden enemy in an unknown and seemingly treacherous country? What will be the plight of these troops, as they fail to integrate back into an alienating society, while struggling with the lasting effects of war? These themes are presented to the audience in a remarkably effective manner due to the convincing acting and the great technical production, which successfully immerse the audience into the lives of these soldiers and force us to ponder their plight. But much to the credit of McLaughlin the play also knows how to transition from these greater themes into the more personal tragedy of A.J., who must struggle with injustice and betrayal, much as her fictional counterpart Ajax had to.
The show is directed by Max Ginkel and George Al Rayes who opts for a dynamic and high-tempo representation of the narrative. The actors often bombard us with ideas and perspectives on war emerging from all corners of the stage. These elements do a great job of creating the tension required to stage the main themes in a convincing and engaging manner.
Ajax in Iraq does an excellent job of presenting a social critique against war combined with the story of its effects on the individual lives of a group of soldiers. If you want to see a play that will have you thinking about its story for many days to come, this will definitely stir your conscience.
Ajax in Iraq, presented The Theatre Production Class is this Friday May 10th at 6pm and Saturday May 11th at 12pm. It’s performed in Homestead High School’s Black Box Theatre. Admission is FREE!