A local veterans organization is presenting a performance of a classical play and panel discussion to raise awareness about veteran suicide.
Samuel Young American Legion Post 620 in Pelham Bay, in conjunction with Theater of War, will be presenting a reading from Sophocles’ Ajax, a play written some 2,500 years ago that details the horrors of a suffering war hero who ultimately takes his own life.
The performance will take place at the post on Thursday, March 15, with doors opening at 6 p.m. and the presentation lasting from 7 to 9 p.m.
The performance features professional actors including Vietnam War veteran and retired U.S. Marine John Doman playing the Trojan War hero, and Chinasa Ogbuagu and Alex Morf, who portray those who try, unsuccessfully, to help Ajax cope with the invisible wounds of war.
The reading will be followed by a discussion on the topic of veteran suicide with veterans, their families and a mental health professional in order to raise awareness of the issue, said Bryan Doerries of Theater of War, an organization that has made the same presentation to 400 military groups throughout the city and around the world.
The event’s planner, local veteran Joe Mondello, said statistics on veteran suicide show they occur at a rate of about 20 a day, and said that this event was designed to be uplifting to veterans while raising awareness.
“It is a tough issue but I think by at least talking about it and doing something like this is in the community, hopefully somebody will respond to it,” said Mondello. “Sometimes just being aware of something can lead to positive results.”
The American Legion is at the forefront of trying to prevent veteran suicide, he said, adding that sometimes veterans take their lives because of or in spite of strong medicine they are often prescribed to help them deal with the pain from war-related injuries.
“We hope to make a difference in someone’s life,” he said.
Mondello said that he was first introduced to the work of Theater of War through the borough president’s office as part of the Bronx Veterans Advisory Council.
Doerries, who will facilitate the discussion among the audience members in addition directing the theatrical production, is a current City Of New York Public Artist in Residence, a two-year appointment.
The readings from the classical play Ajax, a product of the ‘Golden Age of Greece’ around the 5th century B.C.E., is a free interactive performance of relevant scenes from the play, and is one of 65 free performances that will be given in the city over two years.
Goals are to help veterans “open up, see that their struggles are age-old, and work to connect them with regional and national resources.”
Many who see the performance feel that even though the classical play is labeled a ‘tragedy,’ Sophocles, who was himself an Athenian general, wrote the play as a morale booster, said Doerries.
In ancient Greece, it was performed for citizen-soldiers who sometimes numbered in crowds of 17,000, he said.
The production and discussion will take place at the post, located at 1530 Hutchinson River Parkway.