War in Their Own Words: Vets Speak on Life and Loss
by Wendy Rosenfield
Congratulations to Temple Theaters and director Douglas C. Wager for creating In Conflict, a collection of former Philadelphia Daily News writer Yvonne Latty's interviews with Iraq war veterans that first appeared in book form, and has now been adapted for the stage.
There are many triumphs in the piece, not the least of which is the sheer variety of vets and war experiences represented, 19 in total: a Vietnam-vet officer who "bleeds red, white and blue"; an unabashed liberal enlistee who says he was sent to Iraq to be a "bullet catcher"; a triple amputee who shyly admits, "I miss my body"; a lost 26-year-old who spits, "I gave up my soul - can't nobody give me a prosthetic soul." Each story is fascinating, heartbreaking, heroic or all three, with insights as original as the individuals who generously share them. It is remarkable that with such a wide range of voices, the same themes emerge in most of their testimonies. They want the Veterans Administration to help care for their wounds, both physical and psychic, but tragically, they have mostly been abandoned. They wonder why exactly they were sent to Iraq. They wonder if civilians even care that they've nearly died defending our right to order a hot latte.
If I have any quarrel with the show it's that it could be shortened by a few narratives - not because they're irrelevant or dull, but because by including so many, they risk losing their individual impact to a sense of overload. However, I also wouldn't want to be the one to choose whom to cut and whom to keep.
So why see this version of Iraq veterans' stories instead of staying home and ordering up HBO's? Because In Conflict's most arresting feature is the irony that suffuses the whole endeavor. Latty recalls, in one of the filmed segments that appear between monologues, the disorientation she felt upon entering Walter Reed Medical Center and seeing men and women, the same age as her Villanova students, wearing the same baseball caps with shredded brims, the same t-shirts that declared their affiliations, but all missing limbs or faces. It is a similar feeling watching these uniformly excellent Temple students reciting the soldiers' tales and adopting their mannerisms. Perhaps they're so good because essentially, they're playing themselves, inhabiting a parallel universe where their doppelgangers are, instead of runnng to Wawa for a Coke, driving a booby-trapped road into hostile territory for that same Coke.
Based on the book by Yvonne Latty, adapted and directed by Douglas C. Wager, scenery by Andrew Laine, costumes by Marian Cooper, sound by Christopher Cappello, lighting by J. Dominic Chacon, video by Warren Bass.
The Cast: Tim Chambers, Sam Paul, Suyeon Kim, Sean Lally, Tom Rader, Stan Sinyakov, Danielle Pinnock, Ethan Haymes, Damon Williams, Amanda Holston, Joy Notom