Balancing these two plays over the past few weeks has been a rich and compelling experience. Set against the backdrop of World War II, THE HAMPTON YEARS explores art, education, and race relations in the 1940s. While NOMS DE GUERRE is present day and examines women's rights, politics, and the military. It is the theme of war that connects them. In the former, an artist works to create a mural that captures the pain, violence, dignity, and honor of war. In the latter, a broadcast journalist risks everything to speak truth to power in order to save the lives of soldiers fighting an impossible and unending war on terror. It is this intimate and urgent response to war that most interests me and brings me back to writing about it time and time again. ANNA K, BLOOD-BOUND AND TONGUE-TIED and THE DEVIL'S SWEET WATER all address the impact of war in some way.
This past March, NOMS DE GUERRE was presented as part of Arena Stage's inaugural Playwrights’ Arena showcase. In preparation for our showcase, as part of the Kogod Cradle Series, Literary Manager Linda Lombardi asked each of us to write about our plays. My post, The Cost of War, speaks to the evolution of the play and the impact of war on my life and family. As I work my way back into NOMS DE GUERRE for the upcoming workshop and reading at Pasadena Playhouse, I found myself thinking about this post and wanted to share an excerpt of it with you here:
The Cost of War by Jacqueline E. Lawton
I come from a family of soldiers. My grandfather was in the Army and served in the Korean War. My mother and father were also in the Army and served during the Vietnam War. My brother served sixteen years in the United States Air Force. My sister has worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs for five years.
Noms de Guerre is a play about war … about honor and glory, pain and sacrifice.
Originally, this was meant to be a play about the War on Women and our ever-changing role in society. I wanted to write about a conservative Black woman whose political decisions hindered women’s reproductive rights. Ultimately, I write to make sense of the world. In the wake of what’s been happening to women around the world and in America, I wanted to understand what could possibly drive a woman, a politician, to do this to other women. The play was to follow the evolution of a friendship between two women, Mira and Jude. Over the course of seventeen years, we would have seen certain events play out in their lives that addressed these larger issues. But despite many valiant attempts and wonderful conversations with my smart, talented and fearless fellow playwrights at Playwrights’ Arena, I found that I couldn’t write that play. Instead, this other story, this story of war … about how a broken soldier returns home and disrupts the lives of his wife and her best friend, needed to be the driving force. So, after speaking with Arena Stage’s brilliant, discerning and passionate dramaturg Jocelyn Clark, I set forth to tell this story. And in the most haunting, exquisite, and terrifying way, these other issues have come through, but now on more personal and deeply intimate levels.
Noms de Guerre is a play about war … about broken rules of engagement and the lengths the government will go to stay on mission.
When I first spoke about the play to my father, he told me about a flashback he had experienced more than thirty years ago. It was the middle of the night. He found himself suddenly on the front porch with a gun in his hand. He asked me if I remembered this. I told him that I didn’t. I was probably four at the time and fast asleep. He then told me that the only thing that saved him was talking to his father about all that he had seen and done for his country.
Noms de Guerre is a play about war … about heroic deeds, acts of horror, and the strength and courage it takes to speak truth to power.
I’ve dedicated this play to my father.
This post was originally appeared on Arena Stage's Stage Banter blog.