February 4, 2009 – William Electric Black will direct “The Lonely Soldier Monologues (Women at War In Iraq)” by Helen Benedict. The play is based on Benedict’s book, “The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq” (Beacon Press, April 2009), an intimate, unflinching, and sometimes disturbing portrait of women in today’s military. Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, Manhattan, will present the work March 5 to 22.
More women soldiers are fighting in Iraq than in any other American war in history, yet they face a dual challenge: They are participating on combat more than ever before, but because only one in ten soldiers is female, they are often painfully alone. This isolation, along with a military culture hostile to women, denies them the camaraderie soldiers depend on for survival and subjects them to sexual persecution by their comrades. As one soldier said, “I ended up waging my own war against an enemy dressed in the same uniform as mine.”
In “The Lonely Soldier,” Helen Benedict, a professor at Columbia University, humanizes the complex issues of war, misogyny, class, race, homophobia, poet-traumatic stress disorder and more through the compelling testimonials of five women of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds who served in Iraq between 2003 and 2006. By following the women from their childhood through enlistment, training, active duty in Iraq and home again, she vividly brings to life their struggles and challenges. Ms. Benedict’s book will likely earn a treasured place on bookshelves next to a kindred book, Studs Terkel’s “The Good War,” a rich oral history of World War II.
The play features monologues by seven female soldiers, gathered from Benedict’s interviews and correspondence for the book. Audiences will have the thrilling experience of being face-to-face with the characters, adding the immediacy of theater to what is already a rich literary experience. This dramatic treatment of the book was conceived by William Electric Black, a veteran stage director and TV writer, who saw the potential for a powerful theater piece when he read the monologues Benedict had fashioned from her interviews.
The play’s monologues are all the real words of the soldiers, who will be represented by actors. All but one of the soldiers has agreed to be identified by name and none of their stories have been changed. On stage, the stories will be interwoven for dramatic effect and set to sound design by percussionist Jim Mussen and choreography by Jeremy Lardieri.
The March 14 performance will be followed by a talk back with the author and some of the soldiers represented in the play, followed by a reception to celebrate the book’s publication. Other post-play discussions with female veterans are being planned. There will also be a book release party and selection of monologues from the show at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A East Fourth Street, March 17 at 8:00 pm.
Commenting on “The Lonely Soldier,” Eve Ensler has written, “It is hard to determine what is most disturbing about this book – the devious and immoral tactics used by leaders and recruiters to get women to join the military, the terrible poverty and personal violence women were escaping that lead them be vulnerable to such manipulation, the raping and harassing of women soldiers by their superiors and comrades once they got to Iraq, or the untreated homelessness, illnesses and madness that have haunted women since they came home. ‘The Lonely Solider’ is an important book, a crucial accounting of the shameful war on women who gave their bodies, lives and souls for their country.”
The actors are Allison Troesch, Athena Colon, Cara Liander, Julia A. Grob, Kim Weston-Moran, Macah Coates and Verna Hampton. Set and lighting design are by Federico Restrepo. Costume design is by Tilly Grimes. Production Coordinator/Manager is Chriz Zaborowski. Sound Design/Drums are by Jim Mussen. Choreography is by Jeremy Lardieri.
Helen Benedict is a professor of journalism at Columbia University and author of five novels and five books of nonfiction. In 2008, she published several articles on women soldiers, one of which won the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Benedict’s essays and book reviews have been published in the New York Times, The Nation, The Washington Post, Salon, The Huffington Post, Ms., In These Times, and elsewhere. Her novels have received citations for best book of the year from The L.A. Times and the Chicago and New York Public Libraries. Her new novel, “The Edge of Eden” is to be published in November.
The play is a foray into a new dramatic form for William Electric Black, who has hitherto been known mostly for his use of edgy pop styles in theater. Nevertheless, if you examine his resume, his “activist” playwright’s soul is clear. His last TNC production was “Betty and the Belrays” (2007), a musical in which three white female singers challenged a racially divided society by singing for a black record label. He recently received funding from The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for an animated series he created to promote exercise and good nutrition for young children, “Fighters For Fitness/Fitness Fighters.” He is now writing and directing two animated videos on stroke prevention with Harlem Hospital and The National Stroke Association, featuring Doug E. Fresh. Black is also an adjunct professor at NYU’s Tisch School, where among other things, he teaches techniques performance of plays based on literary works.
Since 1999, Black has penned and directed a series of “jazzicals” in which classical and modern stories were adapted with modern music. These have been produced at TNC and La MaMa. His theater projects have also been produced in Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Black is curator of the Poetry Electric reading series at La MaMa, which fuses music, movement, sound, and dance with the spoken word.
Writing as Ian Ellis James, Black has won seven Emmies as a writer for “Sesame Street.” His educational TV projects have also been produced by Topstone Productions, Lancet Media, Nickelodeon, Scholastic Productions, Warner Cable, and Winchester TV & Film, London. Black composed songs for Queen Latifah, Erykah Badu, Patti Labelle, and Arrested Development when they made special guest appearances on Sesame Street. He has received several Best Play Awards, been published by Benchmark Education, The Dramatic Publishing Co., Smith & Krauss, and received a Bronze Apple for directing (National Educational Video Award). Black has had two film scripts optioned, “Slave Ball” for Silver Pictures/Warner Brothers and “Road Runner” for MCA Records, Jerome Ade, Producer. He has also written, directed, and produced two independent features.
COMMUNITY SPACE THEATER
Thursday – Sunday, March 5 – 22
Thursday – Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm
All Seats $15/$10 Students/TDF vouchers accepted