Excerpt from Ajax performed by Elizabeth Marvel. Used courtesy of Theater of War.
BRYAN DOERRIES TRANSCRIPT
Bryan Doerries: I see Sophocles as much as a playwright and a producer health professional. He brought 17,000 citizen soldiers together and seated them at an outdoor amphitheater in the center of the city of Athens during a century in which Athens saw nearly 80 years of war. And then he told them the story, the Homeric story, a version of the story, of Ajax, in which he takes us into the mind of a soldier who's contemplating suicide. And one of the most remarkable scenes in this play is a scene in everyone leaves the stage, which is never done in Greek tragedy. The chorus leaves, and the actor playing Ajax is left alone onstage brandishing a weapon, praying to his gods as he contemplates killing himself. And ultimately he kills himself onstage, which is almost never done in ancient Greek tragedy. So Sophocles goes so far as to stage the violence of the suicide. So all these things to me support this notion that he was trying to bring attention to an issue that his community was facing.
Tecmessa: In the dead of night, when the lamps no longer burned, Ajax found his sword and moved to the door. Naturally, I objected. “Where are you going? No messengers come calling for help, all of the soldiers are asleep, please come back to bed.” He turned to me and firmly said, “Woman. Silence becomes a woman.” I’ve heard that before, and I know what it means, so I quit asking questions. And he left without saying a word. Whatever happened then, I cannot say.
Bryan Doerries: And so when service members and veterans and families see this play they immediately know what it's about. The first time we did it the first person to speak at that performance was a woman. And she stood up and she said, "Hello. I'm the proud mother of a Marine and the wife of a Navy Seal. And my husband went away four times to war just like Ajax. And each time he came back dragging invisible bodies into our house. And our home is a slaughterhouse, to quote from the play. The war came home with him." And when someone does something like that, when a spouse gets up and speaks the truth of her experience, bears witness, it creates a space where other spouses feel comfortable doing the same.