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Goethe Institut- Main Stage
Friday, July 19, 9:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 23, 7:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 25, 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 6 p.m.
They Say: “One veteran’s experiences in combat. He returns home only to find out he is different than everyone he knew. The play follows his struggles in life, with substance abuse and the disorder PTSD.”
Rachel’s Take: Richard D. Graham wakes up screaming sometimes, overcome by his memories of fighting as a Marine in Operation Desert Storm and what happened to him thereafter. In this show he takes us into those memories, too.
In a Q & A session after the opening show, Graham told us we’d just seen his first performance of anything more than open-mic poetry, and this is a huge project to undertake as his first. The story unravels much more like memory than like a polished storytelling experience—-characters are named but never mentioned again, we get too much detail of some events and not enough of others, and I was never sure how old Graham was at any point in the story. A more accurate title for show as it is now would be What Happened. t’s going to take some work before the audience gets what it’s like.
But “what happened” is a show, too. The man who left for Kuwait was not the man who returned, a point most poignantly driven home when Graham’s mother drives past him at the bus station three times because she’s looking for her son. Graham struggles with violence, alcoholism, homelessness and what he came to recognize as PTSD.
The show is, in many ways, a rough draft. I hoped to hear more personal insight into the disorder—-what exactly does it mean that Graham drank to keep “the demons” away? And there’s more to be said about Graham’s recovery, which right now is summarzied as VA alcoholism programs and the love of a good woman.
But there are clever moments like when Graham puts on a pair of black 80s-nerd glasses moments before a picture of his younger self wearing those same glasses is projected behind him. There are unpretentious, fresh details of a desert war, like when he has to drink four liters of Evian water all at once every day—-in formation. And there is, well-realized already, the moment back home when he knows he needs help.
One reason PTSD persists is the divide between those who have been there and those who have not, and the reluctance on both sides to share the trauma. Michelle Banks, the play’s director (and the aforementioned good woman), said after the show that working on What It’s Like? has been like therapy for Graham. But he’s doing the rest of us a service, too, trying to help us understand what it’s like.
See it if: You’ve been there, or you love works in progress.
Skip it if: You want a fully-formed product.