LOS ANGELES - The house lights go down and the stage lights come up on The
Wolf, the first production of VetStage, a nonprofit theater company run
by veterans of the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It opens with a funeral:
a Roman Catholic priest preparing to deliver a eulogy for a U.S. soldier killed
by a roadside bomb.
Quickly, the scene changes and we're transported to a group therapy session
under way at military mental institution. It's here that we meet our two main
characters. Both are members of the Marine Corps facing courts-martial. The
first is a female soldier accused of killing a fellow Marine after he raped
her. The second is on trial for massacring an entire Iraqi family in their home.
The therapy session does not go well.
"A lot of f*cked-up sh*t happened in combat, that's what I think, supershrink,"
a third solider in the therapy session tells the military psychiatrist. "You
know what? I'm tired, so why don't we move on."
The play's author and lead actor and the founder of VetStage is Sean Huze.
He signed up for the Marine Corps on Sept. 12, 2001 – the day after the terrorist
attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. – and served as an infantryman during
the initial invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003.
The Louisiana native had already worked as an actor playing bit parts in commercials
and television shows before enlisting. Immediately after he returned he wrote
a play called The Sand Storm, a series of 10 monologues describing the
Iraq war from the soldiers' perspective. Huze said that play helped him work
through psychological issues he had returning to the United States after serving
Then, in Los Angeles, he founded VetStage, which seeks to present "one of
the best opportunities for our nation's veterans to define their experience
and how it is perceived by the public. In addition to that, it provides a positive,
creative outlet for veterans to process their personal experience, enable them
to make an artistic contribution to society, and ease the transition back into
civilian life," states its Web site.
The Wolf is VetStage's first production, in association with the organization
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Huze told IPS he was drawn to write The Wolf when he saw how the U.S.
government and the media reacted to a Marine Corps massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians
at Haditha in November 2005.
"Some lance corporal is going to do 10 years in the brig or longer, and in
the meantime the people who train Marines to do it, that condition Marines to
do this, basically get off," he said. "They hang the individuals out to dry
when really they're doing what they're trained and conditioned to do. That's
why I took this kind of route with this play."
Near the end of the first act, the two soldiers break out of the mental institution,
but they can't lie low – violence seems to follow them wherever they go.
This is how the play's main character describes the massacre he perpetrated
to his local priest: "They were sheep," he says, "and I am a wolf and I did
what wolves do and that's what I told 'em and that's why they keep me locked
"And what about now – you're still a wolf?" the priest asks.
"You can't turn someone from a sheep into a wolf and then back again, so where
does that leave me now?"
Karl Risinger is a member of the VetStage company and a U.S. Army veteran
who trained soldiers before their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I like the production," he said. "I think it's a story that needs to be told.
[Veterans] have been programmed and trained and they're soldiers, and suddenly
they get out of the military and they're home to normal life and they don't
have to go through the normal regimens they have to go through in the military."
"They're dealing with the stuff they've done during their military careers,"
he added. "Nobody really knows how to deprogram a soldier."
The Wolf is a decidedly antiwar play, focusing not only on the conditions
soldiers face after they come home, but also attacking the George W. Bush administration's
reasons for attacking Iraq. Still, Huze told IPS, the theater company isn't
only for veterans who think the war is wrong.
"There are veterans who are part of VetStage who are conservatives who voted
for Bush twice," he said, noting the organization also offers acting and play-writing
classes designed to help vets improve their skills and integrate better back
into U.S. society.
"Certainly for me, even though those aren't viewpoints that I hold, if they're
vets who are involved in this who still have issues they want to work through
and help them with writing, they're able to do something artistically [and]
it helps them to transition back to being a civilian or a citizen."
"I just care if they're military," he said, "and if they are, I want to help
(Inter Press Service)