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War speaks volumes, yet often our veterans return home with stories silenced by a lack of words to suffice or by an inability to relive what many of us will never understand. Touring Theatre of North Carolina’s production of Deployed provides a firsthand glimpse into war and acts as a platform for veterans to freely speak for themselves.
TTNC has served as a company plighted with building a repertoire that investigates the human condition and social climate of its community. In many regards, Founder/Artistic Director Brenda Schleunes and TTNC must be credited for contributing to the preservation of a Southern cultural identity, which is often underexplored.
Deployed is a testament that there is no shortage of riveting stories to be told. In response to the company’s call for submissions in early June of 2013, hundreds of writing selections were received from across the country pertaining to the subject matter of war. The authors – veterans or their direct loved ones – explored the seven wars spanning from WWI to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The production, which consists of just over 50 selected entries, had a cast of actors reading aloud with the accompaniment of musician Wayne Seymour on various instruments such as the drum, harmonica, and guitar. The music echoed the emotional sentiment of the text and served as a transitional device.
Schleunes has thoughtfully sequenced the production's various selections according to their commonalities, not the chronology of the wars they reference, therefore illuminating the parallels of war despite varying periods of time. As a result, the audience is able to gather that while military equipment and strategies have evolved, the emotional ramifications of combat are very much the same.
At first glance the storefront venue, Mack and Mack, could be perceived as an impending obstacle for the production to have to out perform. The space – although lending itself to theatricality with assembled, rowed seating and convenient accent lighting – is unable to escape its reality of being a boutique showroom with hanging mannequins adorned in ladies’ fashions and the hustle of busy downtown streets just beyond the windowpane. Yet, fortunately, the activeness of the setting was quickly hushed and camouflaged as the performance ensued.
There were no standouts in this production, nor should there have been, as it was evident that the poignant text of the veterans deserved full showcasing. That being said, the cast of readers (Jeff Aguiar, Camilla Millican, Robert Allen, Shelby Womack, and Stephen Gee) was able to give the selections life with characterizations that reinforced the genuine humanity radiating in each line.
The selections, which are a mixture of poems, journal entries, and memoir excerpts, elicited a spectrum of reactions from the audience. Some pieces conveyed pride and family lineage, as was the case with “Letters to Mary Catherine” and “Memorial Day, My Son Leaves Home.” A few, such as “My Closet” and “ Dear Mr. Sandman,” explained the trauma upon returning home and the ghost that will forever haunt. However, almost all of them spoke about the omnipresence of death.
Under such narration, the elements surrounding the performance took on a quiet commentary. The civilian greens and blacks worn by the cast spoke to army fatigues, dog tags, and lace-up boots. The sidewalk strollers curiously peering into the windows and loud radios zooming by were no longer distractions, but were now embodiments of the freedoms that have been protected. Even the elegant dress display venue became a metaphor of a nation’s abundance and incited gratitude. The very experience of the free creative expression of these stories as they are made the production sacred.
Touring Theatre of North Carolina’s production of Deployed shows that one of the most profound ways to honor our troops is to simply listen to them.
Deployed continues through Saturday, November 16. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.