The author of a previous play called “Hitler’s Tasters,” Michelle Kholos-Brooks has now penned a very different kind of theatrical piece about the people who played a role on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“War Words” as her new play is called, is simply actors on stage, reading the actual sentiments of soldiers, interpreters, and the family members awaiting the return of loved ones. It is stark and tells of joy heartache and loneliness in America’s longest wars.
“I knew nothing about this world,” Kholos-Brooks reveals. ”I don’t like guns, fighting, or war. Why can’t we all be nice to each other?” But then, her husband, Max Brooks, (author of “World War Z”) had just been to West Point and said, ‘Michelle, these are some of the most thoughtful and activated people I’ve ever come across.’ Michelle recalled him saying, ‘someone should put them on a stage in the style of ‘Vagina Monologues.’
“Then, I realized, oh, yeah, I do that. “War Words” has had several dramatic readings, including on the Air, Sea and Space Museum aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid. Its Off-Broadway month-long run, at the A.R.T Theatres, began
But first she had a few challenges that Eve Ensler never had.
That 1996 play by Eve Ensler opened way Off-Off Broadway in 1996 before migrating to Off Broadway, with personal monologues tackling a variety of sometimes uncomfortable or taboo topices from consensual and non consensual sex, to prostitution and menstruation and reaching critical acclaim. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times called the play “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.”
For Kholos-Brooks, it meant starting from scratch for a topic she knew little about at the outset and then full immersion once the project began in earnest.
The playwright began the project in 2019, focusing on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I started putting out feelers to people to interview,” she recalls. “I told them ‘I’m probably the dumbest person you’ll ever meet when it comes to the military’.” Her first question was always the same: “Why did you join up?”
“Some people have great stories but are not necessarily storytellers,” she says. Some of the most touching ones are about interpreters. “I had no idea about how important they are,” she adds.“When the administration pulled troops out of Afghanistan, it was very upsetting, leaving brothers and sisters behind to die. Those troops knew it was going to fall.”
Kholos-Brooks has learned as much as anyone during this process. “We say we support our troops, but what does that really mean?” she asks. “No one signs up to get killed. We don’t know these people. They need our support and our passion when they come out.” One of the actors, a former vet, is Donald Calliste, who says of the script, “I loved it immediately. It reminded me of my service. I was triggered a few times because the story is real from beginning to end but made me appreciate even more to be alive and thriving.” Another performer/ vet is Jannean Farmer who says, “Normally, when I come across military stories, there is a heavy focus on patriotism and service. So much so, that the characters’ circumstances become secondary to that patriotism. In these stories, the military is also a character, that is often seen without blemishes or with flaws that can be quickly forgiven. What drew me to WAR WORDS, is the authentic experiences of real veterans who are open about the flaws within the military system but also within themselves.” We will likely get more provocative material from Kholos-Brooks (who, incidentally is the daughter-in-law of one Mel Brooks) in 2024. Coming is a powerful piece about a teacher dealing with the issue of gun safety. For a woman who claims to know nothing about—or is scared to death of—all things that shoot or hurt-------she is determined to make a difference.