Citrus College’s production of The Bronze Star deals with some weighty issues – gays in the military, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and suicide. But the play is more about the honest experiences in a soldier’s life rather proving a political point, said the play’s producer Cherie Brown.
“There’s still a stigma of gays in the military, to a degree,” said Brown. “But I think this play shows that these men in combat, gay or not gay, were warriors and they were soldiers.”
Playing in its second sold out weekend, The Bronze Star marks the writing debut of Bruce Solheim, a history professor at Citrus College.
The play is based on the life of Carl Ferguson, a Vietnam veteran Solheim met in 2000. The veteran struggled for years with his homosexuality, PTSD, family rejection and depression, until Ferguson committed suicide.
The veteran’s story had such an impact on Solheim that he decided to tell Ferguson’s story.
But instead of writing a book, Solheim, who had never written play before, decided Ferguson’s story should be told on the stage.
“[Solheim] wanted the story to be active and to be something that people can go and experience in the same room, in a lifelike manner,” said Brown. “He wanted the audience to experience the trials, the tribulations and the journey of these characters.”
Solheim wrote the play using recordings Ferguson made documenting his military experiences. One of Ferguson’s mementos, Solheim discovered, was the Bronze Star, a medal awarded for acts of heroism in combat, one of the highest awards a soldier can receive for his service. It was a medal Ferguson never mentioned to Solheim when he was alive.
After six years of writing and rewriting the play, Solheim presented the script to Brown who helped bring Solheim’s work to the stage.
Directed by Neil H. Weiss, the play tells the story of a gay Vietnam vet, who struggles with the ghosts of his past and finding acceptance in an intolerable society. The play begins with the Vietnam War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing to life an honest portrayal of a soldier’s experience that transcends generations.
About 35 actors are a part of the production, including military veterans and active service members. One actor, Frank Chavez, is a Bronze Star recipient.
“It’s a strong play, it has some very strong language, and it’s very real,” said Brown. “It’s not white bread. But we tried to capture what it was like for these young men to be in Vietnam, or Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Brown said the play has received a groundswell of support since its sold out opening last Friday at Citrus College’s Little Theater. The play will continue to run to sold out audiences until Nov. 17.
The play is currently entered in the annual American College Theater Festival to be held in Los Angeles in February 2013.
“The play is a message about war, and the effects of war and how people aren’t robots,” said Brown. “When they come back from a tour of duty, they’re affected. In some way shape or form, they are affected. They are never the same. And I think the greatest impact of this play is that once audiences see the play, they, too, are also affected.”