About the project
It has been suggested that ancient Greek drama was a form of storytelling, communal therapy, and ritual reintegration for combat veterans by combat veterans. Sophocles himself was a general. At the time Aeschylus wrote and produced his famous Oresteia, Athens was at war on six fronts. The audiences for whom these plays were performed were undoubtedly composed of citizen-soldiers. Also, the performers themselves were most likely veterans or cadets. Seen through this lens, ancient Greek drama appears to have been an elaborate ritual aimed at helping combat veterans return to civilian life after deployments during a century that saw 80 years of war.
Theater of War presents readings of Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes to military and civilian communities across the world. These ancient plays timelessly and universally depict the visible and invisible wounds of war. Each performance is followed by a powerful audience discussion led by community panelists. This project has been presented for diverse audiences in a wide array of settings, including military installations, hospitals, medical schools, universities, homeless shelters, libraries, public housing developments, cultural institutions, high schools, prisons, and public parks.
About the plays
Ajax by Sophocles
Sophocles’ Ajax tells the story of a fierce warrior who slips into a depression near the end of The Trojan War, after losing his best friend, Achilles. Feeling betrayed, Ajax attempts to murder his commanding officers, fails, and—ultimately—takes his own life. The play tells the story of the events leading up to Ajax’ suicide, as well as the story of his wife and troops’ attempt to intervene before it's too late. The play also depicts the devastating impact of Ajax’ suicide upon his wife, son, brother, troops, and chain of command.
Philoctetes by Sophocles
Sophocles’ Philoctetes tells the story of decorated warrior who is abandoned on a deserted island because of mysterious chronic illness that he contracts on the way to the Trojan War. Nine years later, the Greeks learn from an oracle that in order to win the war they must rescue him from island. When they finally come for him, the wounded warrior must overcome nine long years of festering resentment and shame in order to accept help from the very men who betrayed him.
Theater of War Highlights
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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford presents Theater of War to Joint Chiefs and Combatant Commanders
National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, DC / 2017
Zach Grenier, Glenn Davis, and Marjolaine Goldsmith are introduced by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. See article.
Reading of Scenes from Sophocles’ AJAX
National Geographic Society, Washington, DC / 2016
Jeffrey Wright, Marjolaine Goldsmith, Reg E. Cathey, and David Strathairn present Theater of War on the fifteenth anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks. This performance was featured in The New Yorker.
Theater of War on PBS Newshour
Like War Itself, Effects of War Are Hell. Ask the Greeks.
The New York Times / 2008
The Healing Power of Greek Tragedy
Smithsonian Magazine / 2017
Theater of War: Battling PTSD with Sophocles
The Aspen Institute, Scholastic Auditorium, NY / 2016
Reg E. Cathey, Kathryn Erbe, and Michael Stuhlbarg perform Sophocles' Philoctetes, followed by a conversation with the audience, Bryan Doerries and Maurice Decaul.
Theater of War, the origin story by Bryan Doerries
Chautauqua Institution / 2016
In Ancient Dramas, Vital Words For Today's Warriors
NPR / 2008
The Anguish of War for Today’s Soldiers, Explored by Sophocles
The New York Times / 2009
You Are Not Alone Across Time Using Sophocles to treat PTSD
Harpers Magazine / 2014
Harpers Magazine profiles Theater of War. Read the article.
Sophocles and awe: the director hitting war vets with Greek tragedy
The Guardian / 2015
Theater of War Productions presents Sophocles’ ‘Ajax’ at Miller Theatre, wrestles with impact of war through dialogue across campus and across time
Columbia University / 2019
Theater of War Productions collaborated with Columbia University in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Core Curriculum. We presented Ajax to an audience comprised of Columbia Students and New York City Veterans struggling with homelessness and addiction to contextualize and interrogate the text that has been taught for 100 years. Read about the performance in the Columbia Spectator
IncarcerationPrometheus in Prison
Prometheus in Prison is an innovative public health project that presents readings of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, an ancient Greek play about god who is imprisoned for stealing fire and giving it to humans, as a catalyst for powerful discussions about the challenges faced by individuals, families, and communities whose lives have been touched by the criminal justice system. For the past decade years, this groundbreaking project has been used to open up healing dialogue in a variety of settings, including prisons, detention centers, and public venues throughout the country and the world.
Caregiving & DeathEnd of Life
End of Life presents readings of ancient Greek plays in public settings and medical communities as a catalyst for facilitated discussions about challenges faced by patients, families, and health professionals today around end of life care. This unique, participatory event is intended to promote powerful, open discussion among diverse communities - public and professional - fostering compassion, cooperation, and understanding about living with chronic suffering and the mortality we all share.
Natural DisasterThe Tohoku Project
The Tohoku Project: Sumidagawa presents powerful dramatic readings by professional actors of Sumidagawa, a Noh play from the early 15th Century that timelessly depicts the unique challenges faced by parents in the wake of unimaginable disaster. Each reading is followed by the responses of community panelists, culminating in a lively, facilitated audience discussion. This interactive event promotes healthy, constructive dialogue about the lasting impact of the Tohoku disaster upon individuals, families, and communities—fostering compassion, understanding, awareness, and positive action.