Originally posted HERE on 5/3/22
Stan, I know you are writing about a very painful part of your life. You cannot put closure on this, so what do you expect to achieve?
SM: War is continuous, it echoes forever. I tend to lean on the knowns, which are that I was an infantryman in a war, my platoon was ambushed, and four of my friends were killed that night. What I expect to achieve by telling that story is more than a remembering, I want to bring light, and life, and love to what may only seem dark. I tried to write a war story, but what came out was a love story. This terrible thing happened, mothers lost sons, we saw it all, it was real and it happened, scars formed, but then here we are, seventeen years later, and what is happening in this theater is beautiful.
If the play works, and people come to understand this thing that is so terrible, and also so beautiful, then maybe I get one step closer to returning home.
The pandemic forced you to close the show in March 2020. You have had to make some cast replacements. What else is different? Has there been any rewriting?
SM:Theater in LA is difficult. In military terms, we would call this a non-permissive environment. Working actors are working, many different jobs on different sides of town, and there’s nowhere to park, anywhere in this city…we all know the general terrain. Keeping a cast for two months, let alone two years, is impossible, and so the work evolves, it transforms when these new personalities, new lives, come into the room. That adds layers to these characters. Cecilia and I wrote characters who are real people that really lived.
Tell our readers about your co-writer Cecilia Fairchild? How did you meet and in what way is she so perfect for this challenging topic of war and its devastating effects on all humanity?
SM: Cecilia Fairchild and I were partners for seven years. She knows my story, she knows the characters, and she’s responsible for helping me find my voice as a writer. This isn’t the kind of piece that could withstand collaboration in writing, so we made an art out of not doing that and coming together as one voice. She is the only person I’ve ever known that can drop into that cave with me and write about it in a way that is true, unprecious, and unpretentious. It takes a special writer to command their words with a reverence to the capital T truth and also be free to explore the absurdity and love that exists in these moments of despair, and Cissy is that person. We met in 2014 just days after I returned from my last tour in Afghanistan, and quickly realized that we shared an uncommon language in each other.
Talk about your director, Zach Davidson, and his challenges in putting the play on its feet?
SM: Zach asked Cecilia and I to write this play about four years ago; he has been invested in the telling of this story since before it was written. In short, we got lucky to have him as our champion in taking on this narrative beast. He possesses a true understanding of the full spectrum of the human experience, so there was never any need to explain what was happening. He just gets it at the molecular level. I’ve learned more about my own war story through his interpretation and dramaturgy than I have in a decade of trauma therapy.
As far as the production hurdles are concerned, Zach gets to solve the same problems over and over, inventing newer movements, seeing new angles in the story every time we bring a new cast into the room. You could say that this is our third run of rehearsals, and that will either make for a very well developed play, or something that is unintelligible at this point. We’re so far inside this thing that it’s hard for me to tell which, but that’s up to the audience. It’s a five year long production at this point, and I believe that will show up as the most exalted war play ever told, ever performed.
Your characters, I believe, include a member of each of the armed forces. How is your cast developing in rehearsals?
SM: Three of the actors are vets, Matt King (Army), Ronin Lee (Air Force), and myself (Marine Corps). Our sound designer and composer is Sloe Slawinski (Navy). It feels good to have that representation here, for they get the landscape, noise, and severity of war. The stakes are inherent to these veterans; they all know what it’s like to sign a blank check for up to and including their lives…but all of the performers have become intimate with these stakes, whether they’ve served or not.
The cast has evolved over the two years since covid first reared its head. We’ve lost actors who had brought crucial light and humanness to this play, and we’ve gained actors who have brought that back into the room in their own crucial way.
Every character in this story is me, and every character tends to get lost at times, finding themselves in someone else’s dialogue, melting the story in to one completely mixed narrative that cannot be unmixed, and this feels like war, or love, to me, because it’s often that way.
From my point of view, there aren’t four female and four male leads; there are eight actors that represent everything they bring into the room, and everything that happened in the war. I feel so fortunate to have had all these wonderful artists that have come and gone, every one of them is present in the story.
Is there spirituality inherent in the play? When they leave the theatre is there enough hope for the audience to take with them?
SM: Everything at once. When I found myself wounded, on fire, and in the midst of this intense firefight, I was the most hopeless I had ever been. There was no way to live through that, and the doom of it all was overwhelming. My instincts told me to lay down and wait to be killed, because the terror of the moment saturated every feeling. It was an existential murder, but at that very same moment, everything I had ever been, where I’m from, my childhood, the family dog, et cetera, overrode the hopelessness with hope. Pervasive hope. It is in moments like that where you fight, not just to survive, but to put one foot in front of the other and move.
Movement is survival, and movement is hope. There’s a sense of the universe at work here, God, whoever that may be to the audience, or to me, the irrelevance of time, and the common ties of the human experience make this a very spiritual story with hope in abundance.
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