War: What It's Good For

Bad Epitaph Theatre remembers the war that everyone else has forgotten.

The Gulf Fine Arts Association's Corning Theater, 38660 Mentor Avenue in Willoughby 8 p.m. Friday, October 12, and Saturday, October 13, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, October 14. $15, students and seniors $14; 440-951-6637
The cast of The Gulf looks back in anger.
The cast of The Gulf looks back in anger.
"Everyone forgot the risks they took -- that they got sick and died," says David Hansen, founder of Dobama's Night Kitchen. They were the soldiers of the Gulf War, the high-tech "video-game war" of 1991. Then, as now, flags waved, and dormant patriotism was stirred. But victory came so swiftly that, when the war was over, no one remembered it, save the families of those killed and the people still suffering the effects of Gulf War syndrome. It was a war that had no resonance.

Ten years later, the country reels in sorrow and rage over the September 11 terrorist attacks and braces itself for a protracted war against an elusive enemy. Hansen, now artistic director of Bad Epitaph Theater, reflects on the last decade's war, which found him participating in protest marches at Ohio University. Not everyone shared his views: On the night the bombs started dropping, he attended a candlelight vigil and watched in amazement as "hundreds of people poured out of the dorms" to express their pro-war zeal. "It was a very tumultuous time," he says.

Last year, Hansen brought his memories to the Night Kitchen, inviting eight young performers to write about their own experience of the Gulf War. "They read a lot of books, and they did some soul-searching." The resulting play, The Gulf -- actually a collection of 33 playlets -- was performed at Dobama in January. On October 13 and 14, the play will be revived at the School of Fine Arts in Willoughby. It is certain to have more resonance this time.

Though antiwar sentiment is now being discouraged, Hansen decided not to change the show's content to suit the current climate. "The same kinds of questions are being asked now that were asked 10 years ago," he says. "Some of the play's indictments are harsh, but there's a lot of humor in it." The Gulf is rife with the kind of irony the media now are saying is dead, including a parody of interpretive dance, complete with someone strumming the dreaded "Kumbaya."

But The Gulf also portrays a generation coming to terms with the idea that even a "virtual" war has casualties. We meet soldiers facing death, Israeli schoolchildren petrified by a bomb threat, and a grandfather spouting anti-Arab epithets.

Most of the actors are in their mid-20s, and the youngest, Leah Krauss, is 16 -- just five years old when the war began. "It was a foggy piece of history for me," Krauss says. But she educated herself, devouring books and interviewing veterans. "It gave me a much fuller idea of what war is, when you get to meet people who are not ruthless killers. They were sweet and sensitive. They struggle still with what happened there."

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