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
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.
Addiction & Substance AbuseAddiction Performance Project
Designed to raise awareness about opiate addiction and alcohol abuse, the project is intended to promote dialogue about helping those who are struggling with addiction.
Caregiving & DeathTheater of War for Medical Communities
Theater of War: Ajax, has been presented to professional medical communitiesto spark candid dialogue and reflection about the unique challenges andstressors faced by medical students and professionals, as well as the lasting impact of physician suicides upon individuals, institutions, and