In the Loop
General News : May 31, 2018

"This is War" gives insight into the psyche of soldiers

By Tori Chin (BSPR ‘21)

When four Canadian soldiers return home after serving in Afghanistan, they are greeted by journalists who are eager to learn the details of an atrocity that occured in the Panjwaii desert. While recounting their stories, the soldiers display the emotional and psychological impact that follows the brutality of war.

This is War is playing at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre from May 31 to June 10. The play—which features two UF School of Theatre + Dance alumni, Brittney Caldwell and Andrew Prescott —is directed by Jeffrey Pufahl, a faculty member in the UF Center for Arts in Medicine.

“It touches on a lot of themes, but we really want the audience to gain a deep understanding of the psychological cost of combat and warfare,” Pufahl said.

Brittney Caldwell (MFA Theatre ’18) plays Master Corporal Tanya Young, who recalls being conflicted by her sexuality and the male-dominated environment she faced during war.

“She is troubled, frustrated, volatile, vulnerable, traumatized, driven, desperate and nurturing all in one,” Caldwell said.

In order to prepare for the emotionally demanding role, Caldwell said she spoke with one of her close friends who recently fought in Afghanistan.

“The intensity of the memories and the emotional response he had from them was as strong and fresh as if they'd happened yesterday,” Caldwell said. “The wounds are still open, and I used that feeling in developing Tanya. The trauma she feels about the things she saw and did during the war needed to be very raw and present for her even though the experiences have past.”

The actress also tried to make her character as authentic as possible by watching YouTube videos of war scenes. From her research and her work with this role, Caldwell hopes audiences will understand the complex humanity of soldiers and re-evaluate their judgement of people without fully evaluating a person’s situation.

“This play blurs things that make it hard to discern whether decisions that were made are right or wrong,” Caldwell said. “I think the play questions relationships and humanity as a whole. So it goes beyond veterans versus civilians.”

Andrew Prescott, who is now entering his second year as an MFA acting student at UF, served in the United States Air Force for eight years and deployed overseas four times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The soldiers in This is War also served in the OEF Afghanistan campaign, but Prescott said the capacity in which he served and the time and location were much different.

“I can attest to the need one feels to fill a hole or emptiness while deployed, and the way that people cope varies from person to person, which Hannah explores in the play,” said Prescott, who first served as an airborne cryptologic linguist and then switched to  tactical support. “In This is War, the characters use sex, smoking, gambling and drinking to help fill that emptiness. For me, I worked out a lot, played ping pong and focused a lot on my mission to help me get through the time there.”

As a veteran himself, Prescott believes there is a side to the lives of soldiers that people do not understand simply because they never experienced it themselves.

“The nature of being deployed, away from friends and loved ones, missing weddings, graduations, births and birthdays, all while having their lives on the line while witnessing terrible things that come with war,” Prescott said. “I hope this play puts the physical and psychological and spiritual sacrifice our men and women in arms go through as part of their job.”

There will be talk-back sessions after some of the performances to facilitate conversations about themes from the play. Psychologists and counselors from the VA will be discussing traumatic brain injury and harassment in the military.

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