War Dreamers, War Nightmares

Photo by Russ Rowland

As if veterans of the Iraqi War don’t have enough problems when they come home. Those who arrive with arms and legs intact often suffer from depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug use, poor job prospects, family conflicts and suicidal thoughts. In addition to these, post-traumatic stress disorder can often rear its extraordinary ugly head. 

In WAR DREAMER, a new play by Leegrid Stevens that is playing at Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street) from March 3-25, Iraq war veteran Jesse Jennings (played by Erin Treadway) is carrying an extra burden. She is tormented by a nefarious plan that the United States Army unleashed during the Vietnam war.

“Jesse eventually goes down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories,” says Stevens. “In writing this play, I found that there are so many of them. They made me ask why people believe them. How many groups are into them? Who do they serve?”

Treadway, Stevens’ wife, has her own opinion. “Conspiracy theories can be shot down with logic,” she maintains.

Rehearsals took place at Loading Dock Theatre in Brooklyn. It’s in a residential building where Stevens and Treadway once shared an apartment. However, when a large space opened up on the ground floor they decided to rent it, and with the help of their friend and producer Eric Vitale they made a theater out of it. 

Wouldn’t that be cost-prohibitive? Not if the couple gave up their apartment and used part of the vast room to live there as well. And that’s just what Stevens and Treadway have been doing for the past few years, sharing their home with a modest thirty-seat theater.

It’s the very little theatre could – and can. Other companies that find they need an extra rehearsal or two suddenly must hope that the space they’ve been renting will be available to them and that no other company has already laid claim to it. “One of the reasons that we do plays at a high level is because we always have the space to do them,” says Stevens. 

As for the plays themselves, Stevens and Treadway don’t just mount his work, but gravitate towards original plays that, like WAR DREAMER, look at extreme human behavior and have an experimental edge.

At a late February rehearsal, the cast, under the co-direction of Stevens and Jacob Titus, provided rich characterizations. They delivered what seemed to be triumphant opening night performances that had been fine-honed after a slew of previews.

Treadway has the most daunting task, showing Jesse’s internal and external scars. Once she’s out of the service, she’s blithely told of the many opportunities veterans have, but the only one for which she is qualified is a menial job at Walmart. The mega-store turns out to have not that many fewer rules than she endured in the military.

Jesse has additional problems with Dustin (played by Shawn J. Davis), an adulterous husband who seems as backwards as the baseball cap he wears. When he learns that she’s in job trouble, he takes management’s side. It’s no surprise that Jesse winds up doing much more of the parenting with their young daughter Alex (adeptly played by Ruby Titus, who is one of several child actors in the show and, in a fun twist, is the director’s real-life daughter).

Stevens and Treadway met at Southern Methodist University in Dallas in the late ‘90s, when both had dreams of doing theater in New York. “Erin moved here first,” Stevens admits, before smiling before delivering the punch line: “She left one day after graduation and I left two days later.” 

Since then, Treadway has played Gertrude in Hamlet, Humphrey Bogart’s wife in a play about the making of Casablanca, and an astronaut in Stevens’ own play, Spaceman, also at Wild Project. “It’s now playing Fort Worth and was recently in Bern, Switzerland,” says Treadway with wifely pride.

Stevens was raised as a Mormon, but abandoned the religion after closely examining its tenets and demands. Perhaps that’s why he also questions much of what he hears on broadcasts and reads on the Internet. 

“Conspiracy theories abound,” says Stevens, shaking his head at the thought of them. “Remember the people who expected JFK, Jr. to show up in Dallas where his father was shot? The QAnon members who believe that pedophiles kill children and drink their blood?” 

The expression on his face and the lift of his eyebrows suggest that right then and there Leegrid Stevens might very well have got the idea for the next play or two that he’ll write for Loading Dock Theatre.

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