Healing on stage

There is nothing new about Ajax's story: The combat veteran suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and took his life — 2,500 years ago.

Now the Greek play that bears his name — "Ajax" — written by Sophocles, is being used to help heal the mental and emotional wounds of modern-day combat veterans.

Readings of the play will be presented Monday afternoon and evening in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's New Theatre in Ashland, thanks to a partnership between OSF and Theater of War Productions, based in New York City.

Although more than 2,000 years have passed since Sophocles, who was a Greek general, wrote the classic play, the points he raised still ring true, observed Claudia Alick, an associate producer for OSF.

"This is about a soldier's catharsis and emotional release, about community healing and community bonding," she said, noting those experiences remain the same, whether the soldier is marching home from the Trojan War, Afghanistan or Vietnam.

"The words of Sophocles, just like the truth that Shakespeare spoke, hold true today," she added.

True story, said Bryan Doerries, a New York City resident who founded Theater of War Productions three years ago. He studied the ancient Greek classics in college and is now a classics translator and director of Theater of War.

"What I always tell an audience is, if there is one message to deliver from Sophocles 2,500 years ago, it is that they are not alone in this room," Doerries said Friday in a phone interview from the Big Apple.

"I also tell them they are not alone across this country and the world and, most importantly, they are not alone across time," he added.

The point, he stressed, is that the play is not about politics but about healing.

"We are addressing a public health issue with theater in a way that brings people together," he said. "People come out of these performances not traumatized, but relieved."

Even so, several professional PTSD counselors have volunteered to be on-hand should their services be needed Monday.

Each of Monday's performances will be about two hours long. The readings will be followed by comments from a panel that features a diverse group of veterans from the community in a town hall-style audience discussion.

The matinee is a female adaptation of "Ajax" directed by Kathy Simpson, and features OSF actors Ako, Chris White, Dee Maaske, DeLanna Studi, Jack Willis, Kimberly Scott, Ted Deasy and Vilma Silva.

The evening performance, which begins at 7 p.m., is directed by Phil Killian Fellow Jerry Ruiz. The OSF cast includes Alejandra Escalante, Brian Demar Jones, Danforth Comins, Frankie J. Alvarez, Miriam A. Laube and Richard Elmore.

Both panel discussions will be facilitated by Doerries. Panel members include active duty personnel, veterans, a family member of veterans and a mental health professional.

Since it began, Theater of War Productions has presented more than 150 performances at more than 50 sites in the U.S. and Europe.

"The performance is really only a pep rally and catalyst for the discussions we have afterwards," Doerries said. "One of the things we want to do is engage civilians to get them to understand, regardless of their politics, how they can help veterans."

Both he and Alick, who noted that OSF has a long tradition of presenting productions that reach out to veterans, said that both the art and veterans communities mesh well together.

"Veterans are the audience for which these Greek classics were intended," he said. "They understand what Sophocles was trying to say."

But the plays reach out to all members of society, he reiterated.

"People are moved by actors, by a story that is 2,500 years old," he said. "When they hear the words, the politics go away."

For more information about Theater of War, check out www.outsidethewirellc.com.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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