Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Q: Was It worth it? A: War is War. Playwright reflects on ‘The Willow Building’

by KLeain Vashon

"The Willow Building" chronicles the experiences of black soldiers during war.

I have been writing ever since I was young boy growing up in Chicago. As a young man, I wrote a play called “The Willow Building,” adapted from my real-life conversations with veterans who lived in an actual Chicago building after their military service was complete. I was captivated by the wartime experiences of these men, who spoke so freely while coping with post-war trauma.

With a cast of nine, the play will be staged August 24 and 25 at the Summerlin Library Theatre. It follows a soldier who returns home to America with post-traumatic stress disorder, centering on his experiences with a psychologist who gives him the tools for personal healing.

Though originally written some time ago, “The Willow Building” has taken on a renewed resonance in recent years, because of the climbing rate of suicide among soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Before making a final decision on staging a new production in Las Vegas, I asked a recent veteran to read the play — in hopes he could help me determine whether it needed updating. His conclusion: The experience of war is so absolute and consistent, that the themes endure into the modern day.

As I reflect on all of the research that went into writing “The Willow Building,” I often ponder a question I posed to soldiers who served in various wars: “Was it worth it?” While the details of the answer varied from man to man, a basic consensus emerged: “War is war.”

I remember once asking a soldier, “What would help to make you better?” Slowly drawing a deep breath, he replied: “When you come back from serving your country in the military, people only want to hear your heroic experiences. No one wants to talk about the horrible things that took place, and the killing of innocent people at close range. No one wants to talk about that.”

On the contrary, in “The Willow Building,” the psychologist says, “I will talk about it.” As the curtain lifts, and we turn away from medication as the sole treatment for post-traumatic nightmares, we can listen to their stories under the willow tree. Then, perhaps, they’ll be able to sleep in peace.

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