American voters may soon thank, or rebuke, President Obama for drawing down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But veterans who have finished their tours of duty can find themselves engaged in other battles on the homefront. Post-traumatic stress disorder has long occupied a place in the popular imagination. Less visible are the effects of war on the friends and family members of those who served.
These populations, whose wounds are largely ignored in the mass-mediated narrative of war, take center stage in a new play called Spark by Obie Award-winning playwright Caridad Svich. Monica Callan of Vermont’s Moxie Productions recently directed a staged reading of the play in Waterbury and will direct another, followed by a panel discussion, at Burlington’s BCA Center this weekend.
Callan’s cast features Emily George Lyons, Natalie Battistone, Claire Demarais, John Wilson and Rob Donaldson in a story about three sisters “just trying to hold it together” after one of them returns from an unspecified war. To complicate matters, their veteran father disappeared from the family after returning from, and failing to adjust after, another war.
Spark is a story of redemption, says Callan, but it’s also a moving examination of war’s complicated effects on the lives of ordinary people. “It’s about those invisible impacts,” she says. “And this doesn’t address everything by any means, but it’s a window in to say, ‘You know what? We really don’t know what these people are going through.’ It’s a really good consciousness to have.”
Caridad Svich is, by Callan’s estimation, “unbelievably hot” right now in the theater scene. Seven productions of her work are currently running, and she won a Lifetime Achievement award at the Village Voice Obies last May. The nationwide October and November readings of Spark were set in motion by Svich’s NoPassport theater alliance and press, which bills itself as “an unincorporated collective dedicated to the advocacy, production and publication of works expressive of cross-cultural and aesthetic diversity in the arts.”
Callan says she is particularly impressed by Svich’s dialogue, which is devoid of any specific ethnic signature, further broadening the play’s audience appeal. While some references to tobacco fields seem to situate the story in the southern U.S., “it could be anybody’s next-door neighbors in Vermont,” Callan says. “It’s a very human story. And that’s what I liked about it. It doesn’t preach away.”
For Callan, Spark also transcends the typical war drama tropes — such as “highlights of people’s tours of duty,” she notes — in favor of questioning the very idea of war as an expression of national selfhood: “What is this thing we call freedom, and what does it cost us?’’ she asks. “I’m sitting in a very privileged place when I ask these questions, and I can’t forget that I’m sitting in a privileged place. But what is that idea that we spend so much of our national currency on? Is that how we want to spend it?”
Spark, by Caridad Svich. Staged reading directed by Monica Callan and produced by Moxie Productions, in collaboration with NoPassport, at BCA Center in Burlington. Sunday, November 4, 2 p.m. Free. Info, 371-7400.