Portraying soldiers’ experiences overseas

Deanna Caruso

Equinox Staff


The play “Letters Home,” directed by Kevin Kingston and William Massolia, is based off of the lives of real soldiers fighting overseas in the current Iraq war. Performed at the Colonial Theatre on March 20, the play brought to life the actual letters written home to loved ones.

Without politicizing, the play gave the audience an effectual image of the soldiers’ lifestyles overseas. Massolia, who wrote the play, said, “We produced the play in 2008 and performed it for six to eight weeks, but then a lot of requests from theaters all over asking us to perform for them. So far we have been to 50 cities and about 60,000 people have seen the play.” The production used minimal props, such as a few chairs and limited outfit changes.

These letters, penned under the most excruciating degrees, poured with the truest feelings from the heart–from fear, to anger, despair and even a bit of humor.

A total of ten actors emerged on the stage in soldiers’ uniforms. Each came forward one by one to tell his or her own story and explain a letter home. As the light shone only on the actor, the characterization by each actor made the audience believe those actors were the actual soldiers who were writing the letters.

What Americans hear about the war overseas is  selective; we know about the soldiers who won the Purple Hearts, the number of fatalities, the ones wounded and the heroic soldiers.

However, we do not know what each and every soldier fighting for this country had to go through to receive those honors or who has to suffer the rest of his or her life with being disabled, or even the ones who lost their lives. These letters illustrated the pain and hardships these soldiers endured each and every day.

One soldier mentioned that he had not showered in months and that he had slept on the dirt ground for  weeks, while another soldier mentioned how bad he missed eating a cheeseburger.

Simple things such as cleanliness, bedding and comfort food were all stripped away from these soldiers’ daily routines and instead they were given just the essential necessities to live off of.

One female soldier wrote in her letter home that the weather was brutally hot, especially when her body was stacked with heavy gear and her uniform.  The sand would kick up against her skin and felt like sandpaper; she couldn’t breathe or even make out a clear visual of her truck–something that gave the audience a different insight on the war.

A few common experiences written in the letters were about the horrific amounts of dead bodies seen and how they had to shoot and kill their enemies unless they wanted to end up dead themselves. In every letter written was an “I love you,” “I miss you guys,” and an “I’ll be home soon;” yet not all of them made it home to their families.

However, the soldiers did find amusement whether it was decorating for Christmas, being interviewed by MTV or playing with the Iraqi children and teaching them the thumbs-up hand gesture. The Director of the Redfern Arts Center, Shannon Mayers, said, “This play is important to see during this time because March 19 marked the tenth anniversary that we entered war. This addresses American and international history. We reached out to schools to see if they wanted their students to see the play and they all said yes because it is topical and deals with current events.”

Even though the soldiers’ letters presented on stage were from a few years ago, there are still soldiers who are going through the same circumstances as the past veterans.

As the letters were read out loud, the audience chuckled with the actor when he said, “I think I could stay here and be a designated candy man.”

The crowd also shed tears when they heard the story of how one soldier became an amputee and how he was determined to not let this disability label him. Because this play was based on the experiences of soldiers’ lives, rather than advocating the political aspect of war, the play did not cause controversy and that is what the director of the show wanted.

An actor who performed a few letters said, “We talked on behalf of those who no longer had a voice or people who are now in a different place in their life.”


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