About the project
Theater of War
Dramatic Reading of Ajax + Philoctetes, by Sophocles
Translated and Directed by Bryan Doerries
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 is passed over for recognition by his command after losing his cousin Achilles in battle during the Trojan War. Feeling betrayed, Ajax attempts to murder his superior 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 the 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
Theater of War Philoctetes
on Zoom / 2023
Watch the full recording Theater of War: Philoctetes featuring Willem Dafoe, Jason Isaacs, Nyasha Hatendi and a chorus of Veterans. This event was co-presented by Bravehound, a Scottish charity that supports former servicemen, women and their families by providing service dogs and training to Veterans.
Theater of War Trailer
Watch the Theater of War Trailer
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
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