Camouflage, dog tags, and rifles. Soldiers in the spotlight staring straight ahead with haunted eyes. Haunted eyes that see past an invisible reporter. An invisible reporter that asks unheard questions that take them back to war.
That is the beginning of Theatre Erindale’s production of This is War by Hannah Moscovitch. The play details the accounts of four Canadian soldiers following a joint op in Panjwaii, Afghanistan.
Master Corporal Tanya Young (Fuschia Boston), Sergeant Stephen Hughes (Max Ackerman), Private Jonny Henderson (Ben Caldwell), and Sergeant Chris Anders (Joshua Sidlofsky) relive their days at war through the prompting of a reporter.
We don’t hear the questions asked, but the answers given are more than enough to paint a vivid image of the events.
Tanya Young recounts her experiences from her first day in the platoon up to her discharge. With eyes wide and unfocused she tells of the things she’s done, the horror she’s seen. Her memories unfold, showing us the strength of her character and her sarcastic demeanor. Both of these unravel as the war goes on.
Stephen Hughes steps up to the interviewer with the composure of a leader. He answers with as much professionalism as expected, until he can’t anymore. The weight of the lives of his platoon rest on his burly shoulders. No matter how well trained, how well equipped, he splinters at the burden of heavy decisions and lost lives.
Johnny Henderson, a bright and young private, brings a sense of boyish innocence. Young, much too young. Henderson is shaky hands with unlit cigarettes and a bleeding heart displayed on a bloody flak jacket for all to see.
Chris Anders, a Christian medic, brings a semblance of sanity to this platoon. He doesn’t pick sides. He takes everything in stride with a steadfast calmness that offsets the emotional highs and lows of his comrades.
The strength of the play is how the story is presented. It isn’t laid out from point A to point B. Rather it’s told in fragments—convoluted and out of order—much like human memory. Each soldier gives their own rendering of the events, each telling and shining a different light on the story.
This is War is a hauntingly beautiful display of how the human mind fractures in the face of war. Guilt, anger, heartbreak, understanding.
Their tales hit harder than expected. There’s the desire to hide from it but an inability to do so. Much like how Tanya closes her eyes in her mother’s home only to see flashes of gunfire.
You don’t have to be at the warfront to know how much they have gone through. Their shadowed eyes and far-away looks are enough to showcase a tiny bit of the hell they experienced.
They’ve seen things, done things that they have to live with. These experiences follow them for the rest of their lives. They try to patch themselves up and carry on in whatever way they can. Alcohol. Sex. Gambling. Whatever takes the edge off. Whatever silences the screaming and the gunshots.
By the end of the performance I’m struck with how wretchedly awful war is. It’s something we’ve always known but the idyllic life we lead shelters us from the horrors of it. These soldiers deal with it so that we don’t have to.
This leaves them both hollow yet full. Hollow because war takes something away without any intention of giving it back. Full because you bring back so much—blood and guilt and nightmares.
With talented actors, This is War captures the fallout. It’s a reminder that behind strong steady soldiers that brave battles head on, they are humans who have emotions. Emotions that are often cast aside in service of a greater good.
A gripping performance that stays with you long after you leave the theatre. It’s a real thinker that thrusts us through the varying stages of grief that the characters try to push through. It’s a truly humbling experience that reminds us how fragile the human mind can be.