2017-04-21 / Community

Theater of War Performance Discusses How to Help Veterans

By Maria Elena Perez


Panelists Bonnie Owen, Alexis Wichowski, Jenny Pacnowski and Everett Cox help initiate the discussion after the story. 
Photo by Maria Elena Perez Panelists Bonnie Owen, Alexis Wichowski, Jenny Pacnowski and Everett Cox help initiate the discussion after the story. Photo by Maria Elena Perez A powerful reading of scenes from Sophocles’ “Ajax” on Monday, April 17 at the Rockaway Theatre Company at Fort Tilden left everyone in the audience holding back tears.

The free performance was held by Theater of War – a public health project that uses Greek plays to discuss the challenges faced by service members and their families.

“Ajax” tells the story of a fierce warrior who slips into a depression after losing his best friend, Achilles, during the Trojan War. After battling with “survivor’s guilt” and feeling betrayed after the honor of Achilles’ armor is not given to him, Ajax commits suicide.

Facilitated by Public Artists in Residence of New York City, Bryan Doerries, along with actors Chris Coffey, Amy Ryan and Alex Morf, the program promotes understanding and compassion for those who may be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“It’s never about us, it’s always about the audience,” said Ryan, who played Tecemessa, Ajax’s wife.

Ryan, Coffey and Morf are long time Theater of War performers. The added element of listening to the audience discussion and hearing everyone’s stories, however, sets it apart from performing on TV or on a Broadway stage.

A panel-led discussion followed the reading and gave the audience a chance to discuss how they felt while listening to the tale of Ajax.

Panelist Everett Cox, a Vietnam War Veteran and poet said that he related to what Ajax was feeling, as he had similar thoughts during his time serving in Vietnam.

“When I came home from Vietnam, actually, when I was in Vietnam, I prayed every day for someone to put a bullet in my head,” said Cox.

While everyone had different interpretations of the reading, panelist Bonnie Owens, a licensed social worker, believes that the best kind of support is community support, both for service members and their families.

“[The families] are bearing the weight of all of this and if they’re helped, the military member is helped. And if they are helped, we have a better community,” said Owens.

After the performance, many of the audience members expressed that they now know how to help veterans and their families. Joanne Fogarty, President of the Rockaway Point Association, had found out about the Theater of War reading last week and was glad she attended.

“We may not be able to get rid of their scars, but the more we know how to help, the more we can lend a helping hand,” said Fogarty.

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