I assumed this would be a big plate of broccoli theater, steamed with no butter or salt. There is indeed such theater — the evening you endure just because it is good for you.
“She Went to War” opened in the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio on Friday, a presentation of the Telling Project, which uses theater to bring the lives of military veterans to light. Four former servicewomen traded stories, participated in modestly staged scenarios and analyzed their experience during warfare.
As stated, I came with a bad attitude, but this 55-minute event proved absolutely riveting, emotional and honorable. Co-directors Max Rayneard and Jonathan Wei of the Telling Project molded the stories into this show.
These are not actors mouthing lines designed by a writer who can twist the narrative. These are women telling of actual experience, without a political agenda, commenting on the sacrifice and bravery that emerges when life and death hang in the balance.
In the bargain, we once again are reminded of how dramatic, honest and raw a real life can be.
Gretchen Evans, a wiry and profane veteran of 27 years in the U.S. Army, tells a harrowing tale of leading a unit that got detached during an operation in Afghanistan and the lifetime she spent one morning guiding that team up a mountain and away from heavy enemy attack.
Tabitha Nichols, who served eight years in the Army National Guard, sunk into depression after being wounded in Iraq. “A broken soldier is not a good soldier,” she said, recounting the unsentimental reality of combat. Still in pain, she got up off her back because she wanted to be a good soldier again.
Racheal Robinson enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard at 17 because “I knew I wouldn’t get fired.” After serving 16 months in Iraq, she found re-entry to civilian life rocky and has dedicated herself to helping civilians understand military life.
Jenn Calaway, a Marine public affairs specialist, stayed drunk from the moment she learned she would be deployed to Afghanistan until she got on the plane. Near show’s end, her expression of simple gratitude that today she is sober felt profound.
So yeah, “She Went to War” is indeed good for you. It is good to be reminded that there are really noble people (even when they are flawed or damaged) who find purpose in one of the most hellish places on Earth — the battlefield. Perhaps we would wish there was no war, no need for this pursuit, and you can count me in on that. But the world is a rough old place. As Evans said near the end of the show: “You have to believe that something good came out of your experience because if you don’t, it will break your heart.”
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune theater critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.