Beverly Coyle’s theater project, In Our Own Voice,” is
subtitled “Women Veterans Tell Their Story.” Even though the program notes
state that each cast member portrays numerous military women, we get one
multi-faceted story, told in fragments, in words used by military women who
were interviewed for this project.
While researching this work, the playwright chose from the stories
she heard from women veterans. She, and director Colleen Britton, have culled
the words of these women, reducing them to bravado, pain, compassion, fear.
The project hangs together chronologically, stories told from
beginning, to middle, to end. Each actor addresses the audience directly,
speaks her truth, sometimes interacts with the other women around her. Yet
there is no sense of developing story, and closure comes predictably: with
returning home. Projections against the back wall label the sections, in case
you don’t understand the timeline.
Four women enter the stage; they march in, in minimalist costumes
that refer to the military: black fatigues and black boots. They take parade
rest, and start to talk, telling stories of joining up, training, deployment,
and coming home.
Perhaps the playwright worked too hard at weaving the
stories of “numerous military women,” editing them down to a manageable hour.
These stories are familiar tropes. Drug addict joins the military and changes
for the better; chip-on-the-shoulder offspring of an abusive parent joins up to
get out of the house; Mom can’t believe that her child kills people.
These women join the military to prove themselves, to serve the
country, to get an education: all the reasons we’ve heard before. Why is it
different because they’re female? (“Don’t say woman, say female,” says a
recruiting sergeant, in one of the show’s more telling moments.)
Why indeed? Almost every tale told here could have been voiced by
a man. The stories of rape, of harassment, of having to be twice as competent,
of the heart-wrenching moment of leaving the baby: as important as those events
are, they’re also gender-neutral. That women experience them, too, is the whole
point of In Our Own Voice.
It’s not enough. Audiences have been exposed to PTSD art since The
Best Years of Our Lives, a decades-long tradition continuing, for example,
through Coming Home and The Deer Hunter. However,
all that devastating art has been about men. Should a project telling the
stories of women in the military leave the audience more overwhelmed? Possibly;
that seems to be what the creators want, here: to break your heart, listening
to these women soldiers.
However, In Our Own Voice didn’t overwhelm -- but
it almost did. The actors are just not good enough. Cailin Kless, Sionain
Kuhner, Eirinn McGuiness, and Katrina Perkins, the four young women who voice
these stories, don’t dig deep into the “numerous different women” characters. They
all sound the same (barring two attempts at accents, one Southern, one Noo
Yawk), and look similar, and move the same way.
For that matter, since this project is about women in the
military, why are all the actors white? Where’s the perspective of the women of
color? It’s scarcely credible to have four young woman veterans of recent wars,
and not one was Black, not one Latina.
The sincerity of the author, director, the whole team involved in
the project, cannot be doubted; these stories are important. Women experience
war. Women are soldiers, medics, spies. Women push the buttons that drop bombs.
Women make tough decisions, and put up with intolerance, prejudice,
Telling their war stories, therapeutic as it may be for them, is a
political act. In Our Own Voice: Women Veterans Tell Their Story, admirable
in its intent, feels more like polemic than like a play. If you go, it won’t be
for excellent performances or writing, but because these stories are important,
and they’re not told elsewhere. It’s worth the schlep to East 4th St.,
and an hour of your life, to hear them.
In Our Own Voice runs as part of the 2015
Planet Connections Theatre Festivity at the Downstairs Theater at The Paradise
64 East 4th Street
Wednesday, June 24th at 4:30pm,
Monday, June 29th at 5pm,
Thursday, July 2nd at 8:45pm,
Friday, July 3rd at 6pm,
Thursday, July 9th at 8pm
Saturday, July 11th at 1:45pm
For more information on Planet Connections, visit:
All tickets for In Our Own Voice are $18.00. Tickets can be purchased at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/946349
A portion of the proceeds from In Our Own Voice will benefit
Women for Women International. For more information, go to www.womenforwomen.org