The story of Ajax, the Greek general whose madness led to suicide, is certainly in the local theater zeitgeist right now. On the heels of Frank Theatre's modern adaptation Ajax in Iraq comes a pair of readings of the original text by Sophocles, created by Ten Thousand Things and New-York based Theater of War.
"We are in the midst of some very long wars -- the Trojan War had been going on for nine years at the time of Ajax, and our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan are lasting longer -- yet the general public seems very divorced from the reality of the war, and especially the toll that the war has taken on veterans and their families. There is an urgency in getting people to wake up and pay attention to what is happening," says Michelle Hensley, who directs the two readings, which will be held this evening in Rosemount and next week in Minneapolis.
The readings are meant to bring about community discussions on issues of war, veterans, and their families. Panel and town-hall discussions will be held after each event. The local readings are part of a series held across the country headed up by the Theater of War.
"Ajax went through a lot of pain as a veteran of the Trojan Wars in Greece over 2000 years ago. Hearing his story often helps members of the military community to not feel so alone in their struggles. For hundreds of these readings around the country, it has helped veterans and their families feel safe to open up and talk about their experiences," Hensley says.
The goal is also to reach the general population, who, as Hensley noted above, often seem to forget about the two wars the United States is currently fighting and the soldiers who are doing the fighting. The Theater of War readings were first done on military bases, and the feedback was that everyone needed to hear about their struggles.
"It is hoped that when civilians hear the reading and listen to and participate in the conversation, they are charged with taking responsibility for the struggles of veterans as well -- responsibility and some kind of action. There will be resources at the reading to give people ideas of what they can do," Hensley says.
Hensley has worked with actors Bob Davis, Shawn Hamilton, Sonja Parks, Luverne Seifert, and Sally Wingert for the readings. Their performances are followed by comments from a diverse panel of military community members and a town hall-style audience discussion moderated by Dr. Jon Hallberg.
"Our rehearsal process is not long, but I think we all get the sense that in so many ways, nothing has changed at all. There is comfort and strength from finding connections and similarities with the Greeks. Sophocles was a general himself, and wrote the play as an honest way to discuss the trauma of war with his soldiers," Hensley says.
IF YOU GO:
7 p.m. Monday, November 28
Rosemount Armory and Community Center
13865 S. Robert Trail, Rosemount
7 p.m.Monday, December 5
Minneapolis Community & Technical College, Whitney Fine Arts Center
1424 Yale Place, Minneapolis
Admission is free, but seating is limited. Visit online for more information.