In their first free presentation to the public, TheatreWorks’ compassionate care project called “Vet Voices” spoke to a packed house of hearts, minds, and experiences, all gathered to work through the traumas of being an American veteran. It was nothing less than amazing.
It was something you’d expect of a Veterans or Memorial Day event at Wilson Park. It was dramatic, hilarious, and hell-bent on honoring the need to mourn the suffering of our veterans, especially today and every day.
When high school junior Mileydy Morales-Camacho finished filling the room with the national anthem, you could hear a pin drop for a few forever seconds. Then the show began.
Vet Voices was a unique reading of personal stories and perspectives, ten in all. It started with A Bad Ass Army Wife then pulled you into a morass of other stories until you reached Game Breaker, a true psychological trauma story told in a massively comedic light.
It’s intent? Dramatic effect.
“Sticks and stones” Richard Ottum started, “may break my bones,” then busted out, “but I’m here to get these benefits.”[i] Lots of laughter. “Speaking of benefits,” Ottum went on into the up-side-down world of a monolithic system that is best known for frustrating the very people folks it purports to help: the VA.
Then, in another dramatic turn, a surgeon named Tony Sterling took Ottum’s place without leaving his chair. He began, soft-spoken about a “very cold, dark night.” Then I heard the word, dead.
My husband, a VFW, who had been sitting next to Mayor Robinson near the front, got up and left. I could see tears in his eyes. He’d been a medic while at war in a foreign country. I turned to my friend, said I’d be back, and then left myself.
The effect worked on both of us as we cried a little relief in the hallway. “Was it helpful?” I asked George?
“It was therapeutic,” he said.
We arranged to get him home and I went back into the theater, where I caught a story written by former-commissioner Abel Gonzalez about a friend of his and read by Cornelius Douglas. It included a description of the desert: the haze, the smoke, the noxious, dystopic wartime skyline and “that sun.” It made you imagine the very deep effects that war can have on a person’s soul.
The presentation ended with a tribute to Medal of Honor recipient James Hendrix, who is memorialized at Wilson Park. Just like almost everything else in this show, the Hendrix tribute could easily have been the whole show. It was the most detailed homage I’ve ever heard of Hendrix, one that only a group of vets could have staged.
Maybe we’ll see the Vet Voices platoon there someday, at Wilson Park. After all, Veterans Day is only two months away. How about it?
[i] Ottum’s Game Breaker read. (Tape 29:03 – 37:12.)