A profound event that connects closer to veterans who may be struggling with life at home is coming to Roosevelt Island on Wednesday evening.
Theater of War Productions, an organization that uses ancient acting to connect with active and former military members, will be performing the ancient Greek tragedy “Ajax” with a star-studded cast at Four Freedoms Park from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The event is free to attend both in person and online.
Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Ryan, Bill Camp and Ato-Blankson-Wood are just some of the lineup slated to read the intense script in front of more than 400 veterans – who have served as early as the Korean War – in addition Blue Star families and the Special Forces Association among fellow kin to the military members.
Although “Ajax” was written by Sophocles in the 5th Century BCE, its content is something that even the most modern soldiers can connect with, according to Eduardo Jany, News Corp Senior Vice President of Global Security — a company which, in addition to Fox, partners with Theater War Productions.
The timeless link is particularly in how the titular Greek warrior, glorified as a mighty hero, spirals after losing his close friend Achilles in the Trojan War. Ensuing trauma leads to his eventual suicide.
“If you listen to the words spoken, you understand how it resonates with modern battle and our lives today,” Jany – a retired United States Marine Colonel who also served in the Army and Special Forces that is reading the role of Agamemnon – told The Post.
“Nothing has changed. There is the same guilty psyche, the worry from family and friends.”
It is the intention of the table-style reading, similar to the 15 years of past runnings from Theater of War Productions, to reach veterans of all ages in a way that connects them – along with their families – to unresolved issues brought on by their time in and after service.
“After 30 years in the military, I am aware that emotions often wind up like rocks in a rucksack. Eventually, your knees will buckle if you do not let it out,” Jany said.
A community panel and discussion with those in attendance will occur afterward as a public health tool for attendees. It will begin with raw reactions from Jany, other veterans, and one spouse of a service member.
“That’s when the real performance begins… audience members relating those [ancient Greek] lines to often harrowing personal experiences they haven’t shared with people they know, let alone a community that’s coming together to collectively bear witness to them,” Theater of War artistic director Bryan Doerries told The Post of the many cathartic moments had in front of a community of veterans.
“We’re only now, in the 21st century, rediscovering what the Greeks knew 2,500 years ago — which is that real healing takes place in groups and real healing takes place in the public,” the director, who personally translated the text from Greek, added.
Doerries said that he has witnessed firsthand the powerful impacts and uncanny connections that the audience makes after a Theater of War reading.
In many ways, it has saved lives.
“There are people getting up and saying, ‘I was thinking about taking my own life, but I saw myself reflected the character and now I’m going to pursue a path of healing,’ or ‘I checked myself into a 28-day treatment program for drug and alcohol abuse.'”
While Doerries was quick to commend Millenials for bringing a softer conversation on trauma into the open that’s allowed events like Theater of War to succeed, Jany too has seen connections made to the text span generations.
“Older warriors have stood up with tears in their eyes…many will see the light bulb go off and say ‘I know what I need to do now,’” he said.
The remarkable healing effect that Theater of War has on service members is, in many ways why so many celebrity actors — including Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, and Adam Driver to name a few — were more than willing to sign onto the project in years past.
“If you told me 16 years ago before I got started, that reading a play for an audience could be of life and death significance for those in attendance, I would say that sounds really exaggerated,” Doerries said.
“But the actors and I know…sometimes hearing a play, and seeing an ancient story that reflects your own experiences back to you, can be just a thing that’s needed for someone to begin pursuing a path of healing.”