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 United States and Europe. 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
Written in 5th Century B.C., Sophocles’ tragedy follows Ajax, a Greek warrior who falls into an interminable depression. Coping with the death of great warrior and friend, Achilles, Ajax is slighted when Achilles’ armor is unjustly awarded to the poet Odysseus instead. Ajax becomes furious and driven into madness resolves to murder those responsible for this decision but is put under a spell by the goddess Athena and massacres innocent cattle and herdsmen in his confusion. His family and friends attempt to console him, but filled with shame and remorse for his actions, Ajax ultimately commits suicide.
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
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, 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
Medea timelessly depicts how scorned passion can lead to revenge and, sometimes, unthinkable violence. This project, which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in June 2016, delves into under-discussed mental health issues that affect women and their families.
Addiction & Substance AbuseThe Dionysus Project
The Dionysus Project is an innovative public health project that presents readings of scenes from Euripides' Bacchae, an ancient Greek play about the destructive power of intoxication, as a catalyst for town hall discussions about the impact of substance abuse and addiction upon individuals, families, and communities. The project uses an ancient Greek tragedy, written nearly 2500 years ago, to engage audiences in crucial discussions about the timelessness of the human struggle with substance abuse and addiction, as well as resources and solutions that communities can utilize today.
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.