For several years, plays have taken on the difficult subject of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Scottish play Black Watch took a hard look at the impact of the Iraq war on returning soldiers back in 2006. Last year the play Welcome Home Jenny Sutter, about a wounded veteran, opened at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And now the Artists Repertory Theatre is staging the original play Ithaka by Portlander Andrea Stolowitz.
The play follows Elaine Edwards, a Marine captain who has just come back from Afghanistan. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and struggling to simply get back in the swing of daily life, Elaine and her husband argue until Elaine pushes him into a wall. She then goes on the road, and hallucinates that her best friend from the war, who had been killed, is in the car with her.
Feeling a burden to provide a truthful depiction of veterans’ experiences, Stolowitz interviewed dozens of veterans and active soldiers for the play and had a Marine edit her drafts. In the lead up to the premiere, Stolowitz says she became very anxious about the play. Then one veteran she worked with told her, “Even if the play is horrible, at least you’re getting the word out.”
By early next year, the Obama Administration has promised to bring 34,000 troops back from Afghanistan. They’ll face issues from PTSD to finding civilian jobs.
“Our communities are going to be flooded with service members who need our support,” says Buffy Rider, the military outreach program manager at Cambia, a Portland-based health provider. “A returning veteran doesn’t have one set of issues. It takes help on the employment front, on the medical front, and it takes a community to help them navigate through this maze.
While Stolowitz’s is a work of fiction, it’s rooted in the experiences of thousands of soldiers and thousands more to come.
To find out more about Ithaka check out OPB’s Q&A with the playwright.
Are you a veteran or relative of a veteran? What has the homecoming process been like for you? Have you accessed services to make the transition smoother? Did they help?