Yes, In Our Name
“Hardest thing you need to watch” returns to the Leebrick
By Suzi Steffen
Tired of Shakespeare in or out of the park? How about an intimate, three-part anti-war play about the cost to women on the home front? You’ve got it, Eugene.
Last August, a sold-out crowd at the Lord Leebrick Theatre watched as local actor Rebecca Nachison and Seattle playwright Elena Hartwell staged Hartwell’s In Our Name. That was a one-off show, a preview before the duo took the play to the New York Fringe Festival, where it garnered positive reviews and was picked up for publication by New York Theatre Experience in the anthology Plays and Playwrights 2008. The women, who make up Iron Pig Presents (www.ironpigpresents.com), then took the play to Seattle, appearing at Live Girls! Theatre in late January. Now it’s back in Eugene for the weekend of Aug. 22-24, retooled to match current events, and with its actors hoping for more community engagement this time around.
Hartwell and Nachison note that there are many reasons to keep on perfoming the play beyond the fact “we’re still in it,” Hartwell says, where “it” equals the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For one thing, a play like In Our Name provides a different angle to deal with the fact that our country is at war. “People get fatigue, and they don’t want to look at the headlines,” Hartwell says, “but that is so different from sitting in a room with a living person creating a character.”
For her playwright’s perspective, she says, she did a lot of research and interviewed a lot of veterans and their families to make the play more real. “I always say that a million deaths is a statistic, but one death is a tragedy. We are open to hearing individual stories, and theater does that in such an electronically unmediated way.”
Nachison says that even though she doesn’t have family members serving in Iraq, she knows that an actor has to stretch beyond her own experience. “I see it as part of the artist’s job. You can be an actor because you sit in empathy and compassion with everything around you,” she says.
Last August, Hartwell says, a lot of people stayed after the play because “they needed to talk.” So this year, Hartwell and Nachison worked with various groups and activists in Eugene to invite guests for talkbacks after each of this weekend’s three performances. “That was one of my dreams,” Nachison says, “to have some community dialogue going on.”
On Friday, Aug. 22, the talkback features local peace activist Peg Morton and Sara Rich, mother of Army Specialist Suzanne Swift, who refused to redeploy to Iraq after being sexually harrassed and assaulted. Saturday night, those who stick around can hear from and talk to Rich Klopfer of the Justice Not War Coalition and Bob Watada, father of Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused to deploy to Iraq because he believes the war is illegal (see our cover story from March 22, 2007). Finally, the Sunday matinee crowd gets to speak with Bill McCollum, who runs Hope for Our Heroes, a group that strives to make sure veterans get the support they need.
If you saw the play last year, Hartwell and Nachison want you to know that it remains relevant, partly because Hartwell rewrote one section to make a lot more references to Afghanistan (where, the two emphasize, those troops that are touted as pulled from Iraq are now going) and to the presidential election.
Worried about the content? Hartwell says, “I think human beings’ knee-jerk reaction is that ‘I can’t deal with other people’s drama,’ but when you’re in the room with them, that compassion is there. Human beings are compassionate if it is asked of them.” And Nachison says that last year, friends who thought they wanted something “entertaining” came to see In Our Name and were glad they did.
Hartwell remembers one of her favorite comments, from a person in New York who said, “It’s the hardest thing I ever needed to watch.”
In Our Name runs Aug. 22-24 at the Lord Leebrick Theatre. Tix at www.lordleebrick.com or 465-1506. Profits from the run will go to Veterans for Peace.