Talking About War

Monday, October 22 2012

U-Idaho theater play gives insight to life as a veteran; Playwright visits U-Idaho campus Nov. 8

MOSCOW, Idaho — According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 22 million veterans in the United States — one million were deployed since Sept. 11 alone.

So many lives are affected by war, yet for some it’s just a blip on the radar, said playwright Julie Marie Myatt.

“We were at war, and no one was talking about it,” she said.

The silence spurred Myatt in 2005 to write “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” a play to be presented by the University of Idaho Department of Theatre Arts Nov. 1-11.

A tour of duty in Iraq has left “Jenny” a wounded woman, with a body and mind she struggles to call her own. Her deployment is over, but instead of going home, she finds herself drawn to Slab City, a traveler’s oasis in the California desert. It will take effort from the eccentric inhabitants there to help “Jenny” redefine her sense of family and what it truly means to call a place home.

Myatt said she felt a responsibility as a theater artist to bring a sense of humanity to war, to give audiences a character with whom they could relate. With 800 World War II veterans dying each day, the window in which to show appreciation to these men and women is always fluctuating.

“The play’s message is universal,” said director Robert Caisley. “We have a responsibility to honor the service of the men and women of the armed forces for the sacrifices they make on behalf of a grateful nation. But that duty is no greater than the duty we have to honor and respect one another as individuals.”

“Jenny” returns to the states an amputee. Her missing leg is a constant reminder of how things will never be the same, said U-Idaho senior Hillary Mosman, who will play “Jenny” on stage.

According to the VA, war in Iraq and Afghanistan has produced 1,286 amputees. Many of them also suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a subject the play also brings to light. With so many hardships, Mosman said she understands how people, whether they are for the war or against it, can unintentionally ignore sacrifices made.

“People don’t know how to handle that,” she said. “... but being patriotic doesn’t mean conservative, Republican. Even the people of Slab City still appreciate the gift that “Jenny” has given, whether or not that gift looks how you want it to look.”

Creating an actor-friendly environment that also encapsulated the rugged terrain of Slab City was no easy task, Caisley said.

Many of the scenic elements were created using scavenged materials some may consider trash — but the results, he said, will be more of an artistic installation.

“We chose a more … sculptural approach to depicting the various locales referenced in the play,” he said.

Myatt said she chose Slab City after experiencing the area for herself. Consisting mostly of camper trailers that come and go as they please, she said its inhabitants are free-spirited and friendly. With many veterans among the ranks, she said people there are aware of events going on around them despite their disconnectedness. To emulate this, Myatt said she stocked her play full of kind characters striving to live as best they can.

In the play, “Jenny” meets and befriends “Lou,” a woman with such an addictive personality she literally ran away from her wants and desires and found herself in Slab City. It’s “Lou’s” goal to find solace for “Jenny” no matter the cost.

“A lot of the characters in the play are just as traumatized as ‘Jenny,’ just in different ways,” Myatt said.

Although the play uses war as a centerpiece, Myatt said the obstacles characters face are not so different from the trials of daily life.

“All of us will possibly go through something traumatic that will change our lives,” Myatt said. “How is someone going through this war different from us? There is some real value in trying to understand that difference and trying to relate to it, not judging it ... that’s the path they chose.”

Myatt will be part of a talk-back session Nov. 8 following the 7:30 p.m. performance. This session is open to the public and will give audience members the chance to ask questions and voice opinions on the play.

Performances of “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter” are 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1-3 and 8-10. Sunday matinees are 2 p.m. Nov. 4 and 11, Veterans Day. All performances are held in the U-Idaho Hartung Theater on the corner of Stadium Drive and Sixth Street.

Tickets are $10 for general admission. Veterans can attend this show for free. U-Idaho faculty and staff and Washington State University students $8, and admission is free to U-Idaho students with a Vandal card.

For tickets, call the U-Idaho Kibbie Dome Ticket Office at (208) 885-7212. Tickets also can be purchased on¬line or at the box office the night of the show.
For more information, call (208) 885-6465.

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho’s economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. Learn more: