Play Captures Trauma of Latino Soldier

Multicultural perspectives on the impact of the war on Iraq, April 26-27

By Gina Victoria Shaffer
Published on LatinoLA: April 25, 2008

Play Captures Trauma of Latino Soldier

Going off to war. Fighting in a war. Coming home from a war. These three stages in a soldier's life are dramatized from multicultural perspectives in "War Spelled Backwards: A Trilogy," written by Gina Victoria Shaffer in collaboration with Julian Spencer. rnrnUnder the banner of TruePlanet Productions, the trilogy will be presented in a staged reading directed by Spencer April 26 and 27 in Venice. The cast features Minerva Garcia, Darrel Guilbeau, Rob Hahn, Frantz Saint Louis, Carlos San Miguel, and Annika Smith.

In the three-part drama, which is tinged with surrealism, three U.S. Army soldiers encounter the raw truths of war both on the battlefield in Iraq and on the homefront. While the trilogy focuses on the lives of soldiers touched, wounded, and haunted by the Iraq war, it also develops poignant parallels between the current conflict and the Vietnam War.

Among the principal characters is Hector Martinez, a young man from Pico Rivera who signs up for the U.S. Army, thinking it will help make his in-laws proud and provide him with the right training for a career in law enforcement. But six months after coming home from serving in Iraq, Hector begins experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Disturbed by nightmares, noises, and visitations from the spirit of a fellow soldier who died in his arms, he struggles with survivor guilt and his growing skepticism about the war.

While coming to terms with his ordeal, Hector starts questioning his involvement in the war and clashes with his wife, Lupe, whose patriotic family fervently supports the US invasion of Iraq.

Hector's experience reflects that of thousands of US troops suffering with mental health problems following combat duty. According to a Rand Corp. study, 18.5% of current and former service members experience post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"War Spelled Backwards: A Trilogy" is aimed at bringing audiences a closer, more visceral experience of the conflicts, dilemmas, and consequences faced by soldiers involved in the Iraq war.

"The concrete reality of war can be revealed in the everyday, individual lives of people - right before and just after they have served," Spencer explains.

Other characters in the trilogy include Arnie Parker, an African American factory worker who enlists in the Army when he learns he is being laid off, and Randy Wilkins, who confronts a mysterious figure that emerges from the swirling desert sands of Iraq.

"At the center of the play is the idea of history being repeated," observes Shaffer, a Cuban American playwright. "We continually hear pundits and politicians referring to Iraq as another Vietnam. The plays dramatize that analogy and show how the legacy of the Vietnam War continues to haunt us. At the same time, there's always the possibility of learning from the past as lessons get passed from soldier to soldier, from generation to generation."

"War Spelled Backwards: A Trilogy" will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 26 and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 27 at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. The performances are free, but please call for reservations: (310) 823-0710.

About Gina Victoria Shaffer:
Gina Victoria Shaffer, formerly a staff writer for the Miami Herald, the LA Daily News, and the Orange County Register, is now a member of the UCLA Writing Programs faculty. Her plays have been performed on stages throughout Southern California.

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