‘Our War’ Brings Big Names, Historical Themes to Arena Stage

Almost 30 esteemed playwrights, commissioned to write monologues and vignettes. An ensemble of six local actors, joined by nearly 30 notable political, community and cultural leaders to present the results.

For director Anita Maynard-Losh, Arena Stage’s Director of Community Engagement, that’s quite a challenge.

It’s all about “Our War”, which is Arena Stage’s part in the multi-year, multi-city National Civil War Project. The show consists of series of brief plays commissioned as part of the 200th anniversary of the Civil War commemoration. “Our War” will be staged Oct. 21 to Nov. 4.

“Our War” is part of the National Civil War Project for Creating Original Theatrical Productions and Innovative Academic Programs. This nationwide cooperative effort among theaters, universities and other organizations was inspired by D.C. choreographer Liz Lerman, whose “Healing Wars” production was staged at Arena Stage this summer.

“There are a lot of moving parts, and it’s a little different every time out,” Maynard-Losh said. “We have an ensemble of actors, we have this small vignettes or monologues on the theme of the Civil War, and in addition, we have guest appearances each night by city and area notables.”

“I have to say, though, that to be able to direct works by twenty six great playwrights, that’s a gift and a treat, as well as a challenge,” she said.

“These are commissioned works on the Civil War,” she said. “They don’t take place during the war, necessarily, and they touch on themes about the civil war, and the effect it continues to have on Americans, on African Americans, on women. It’s about the effect of the war, more than specific figures from the war, or incidents, or battles. Some pieces are set there, to be sure, but mostly it’s how we’ve engaged with the war, it’s history and aftermath, how it’s become a part of how we live today. We have some historic figures—John Wilkes Booth, for instance, or Walt Whitman, who haunts this city.”

“We got very different works, very different responses,” she said. “There are stories about immigration, about the idea of citizenship and its responsibilities. It’s more of a contemporary take on the war, the playwrights give the war context in terms of our daily lives, of contemporary life.”

The playwrights include Maria Agui Carter, Lydia Diamond, Amy Freed, Diane Glancy Joy Harjo, Samuel D. Hunter, Naomi Lizuka, Aditi Kapil, Dan LeFranc, David Lindsay-Abaire, Ken Ludwig, Taylor Mac, Ken Narasaki, Lynn Notage, Robert O’Hara, Heathear Raffo, Charles Randolph-Wright, Tanya Saracho, Betty Shamieh, John Strand, Tazewell Thompson, William S. Yellow Robe Jr., Karen Zacarias, as well as two students.

The play features actors John Lescault, Ricardo Frederick Evans, Tuyet Thi Pham, Lynette Rathnam and Sara Waisanen.

Guest performers for “Our War” include council members Jack Evans, Yvette Alexander, David Grosso; Chris Matthews of “Hardball” fame; NPR correspondents Deborah Amos and Diane Rehm; Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg; and many more.

Among the monologues are “The Truth”, by John Strand; “Being Wright,” by Charles Randolph Wright; “A Union Soldier Writes a Letter to the Mother of a Boy He Used to Know,” by Naomi Isuka; “A Case for Laughter,” by Ken Ludwig; “La Adelita,” by Karen Zacharias”; “This is How We Do,” by Tazewell Thompson, and “The Grey Rooster” by Lynn Nottage.

According to Arena Stage, due to the wealth of content created by the 25 playwrights, the production has been separated into two selections of 18 monologues under “Stars” and “Stripes.”

For complete schedules for specific productions, go to the Arena Stage website.

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