It’s important to understand the difference between loss, emptiness, and absence.
Healing Wars, the new meditative performance art component of The National Civil War Project created and directed by MacArthur winner Liz Lerman, is the first time at the Arena Theatre where we, audience members, were asked to come backstage before the show. We came in curiously, in groups of fifteen each we were presented with different living tableau; various performers in softly lift stage settings acted out such roles as a soldier with PTSD locked away in an attic, a woman masquerading as a man so she can join the Army, grave diggers at work, all while haunting music played in the background.
It set a mood that was eerie, ethereal, haunting, and lovely all at once and then, as we made our way past the main stage to choose our seats, we passed by another ‘exhibit’ altogether, “Two Men Sitting on a Bench,” where actor Bill Pullman (Independence Day, While You Were Sleeping) listens to young veteran Paul Hurley, graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and former Naval Gunner’s Mate, describe his experiences since his leg had to be amputated. It’s a slap in the face that pulls Healing Wars out of the sepia toned past right into the high definition present.
Running 80 minutes long without intermission, Healing Wars through storytelling, poetry, interpretative dance, and music weaves together a complex tapestry of the bloodshed and slaughter of the Civil War, and the current ongoing meat grinder for U.S. troops in the Middle East. Death is an actual corporeal presence on stage here, and performers wax lyrical on such topics as ether, amputation, burial rites, and all those other grisly and visceral elements of war we like to gloss over. It’s not only a stunning and utterly original spectacle, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before but at a moment when developments in the Middle East are more chaotic than ever before and Op-ed pages and news commentators call for U.S. engagement vitally topical. Everyone should try watching this show, or better yet, visiting Walter Reed Medical Center in person before purporting to understand anything about War.
Photos by Teresa Wood
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