This past Monday evening, some of us stepped out of the chilly weather into Swain Hall to see a moving piece of documentary theatre honoring the stories of veterans. "Silhouettes of Service" is a one-man show created and performed by Gregory DeCandia, who is currently a MFA acting student in UNC's Dept of Dramatic Art. The script consists of excerpts of interviews Greg did with veterans of various wars as they reflected on their service to their country. In crisp portraits of 18 soldiers, he beautifully depicts the diversity of the military and displays some of the breadth of experiences to be found therein. He includes veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a surviving solder of World War II, and then towards the end, his play narrows in on the Vietnam Vet experience. The title is apt as each soldier's excerpt is like a silhouette--quick, providing an outlined glimpse of character, and each piece reflects back on a main theme, the military mantra of "service to country."
It happened that four of the eighteen interviewees were in the audience on Monday evening, all of them veterans of Vietnam. After the show, they stood up and joined Greg onstage for a heartfelt discussion. These are men in their sixties and early seventies, several of them still haunted by their time over there and by their unwelcomed return. The war was bad, real bad, and worse because the coming-back held no promise of sanctuary or of healing. These men had risked everything in service to their country, but their service had become an aching source of shame.
Forty years later, their stories are central pieces in a work fashioned not simply of words but of understanding and care, of truth-seeking and truth-telling, of a long-overdue honoring. As you might expect, these men were moved by this airing of their collective story and by the empathetic feedback loop created among performer and audience and subject. We were all moved. The scars are still there, but when the heart is moved, the healing can flow.
This is the power of theatre. This is the goal of the theatre. To seek out the wounded, to tell of the injury, to air the wound, and to dress it with care. To heal.
"Silhouettes of Service" was directed by Joseph Megel and presented as part of a "Veterans and their Families" Festival sponsored by Streetsigns and The Process Series, a new work development initiative housed in the UNC Communication Studies Department. Other plays in this Festival include "Downrange" by Mike Wiley and "An Loc" by Elisabeth Lewis Corley. In March, Cape Fear Regional Theatre will present the premiere full production of Mike Wiley's "Downrange" about the unsung lives of military spouses. If last May's staged readings were any indication, that production will be electrifying, given CFRT's proximity to Fort Bragg and the jeopardized state of military families after fourteen years of continuous deployments.
Hats off to these theatre artists and companies that are awake to the needs of our time and our place! This work is service to your community and country.