Michelle Hensley says she has learned something about the power of classical theater.
“In a funny way it’s almost easier to talk about the issues, when there is that imaginative distance of another time and another place,” she says.
As artistic director of Ten Thousand Things Theater Hensley takes plays into prisons, shelters and other atypical venues. But now TTT is teaming up with the New York-based company Theater of War to try something different, a reading of “Ajax” for an audience drawn from the military community and members of the general public followed by a discussion of the issues the play raises.
The program is the brainchild of Theater of War founder and artistic director Bryan Doerries.
“The idea behind Theater of War is that ancient Greek plays written 2500 years ago by a General officer named Sophocles would have something relevant and meaningful to say 2500 years later to service members veterans and their families,” he said.
On Monday evening a cast of local actors, including Sally Wingert, Bob Davis, Sonja Parks, Luverne Seifert, and Shawn Hamilton, will read the play to an audience at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
“Ajax” tells the story of a soldier returning from battle, deeply troubled by his experiences. His mental turmoil increases and ultimately he commits suicide.
Immediately after the reading a panel drawn for the military community reacts to the play and then the discussion is thrown out to the audience. Monday night’s discussion will be moderated by MPR’s medical commentator Dr Jon Hallberg.
“The reading just serves as a catalyst to the discussion,” says Hensley (pictured here with actor Sonja Parks.) “And the idea is to make a safe place for people, especially people in the military where there is still a lot of shame around PTSD and suicide and thinking of those as signs of weakness,
make a safe place to talk about that, and the costs of war that we all face.”
Theater of War’s Doerries remembers the first time they tried the program about three years ago. As a classics major he went in believing the play could teach the audience something. He says he quickly understood it is the audience which does the teaching. When the discussion began a woman stood up and began to speak.
“She said, after hearing the play Ajax, ‘Hello. I am the proud mother of a Marine and the wife of a Navy SEAL, and my husband went away four times to war, and each time he came back, he came back like Ajax, dragging invisible bodies into our house. The war came home with him.’ And to quote the play she said ‘Our home is a slaughterhouse.’”