New Play at Bushwick Starr Weaves Classic War Films with True Vets' Stories

By Meredith Hoffman on January 24, 2012 2:40pm 

BUSHWICK — Army Capt. Alex Moen is stationed in Fort Washington, Ky., but on Tuesday night a Bushwick audience can hear his story performed live on stage — interspersed with scenes from Francis Ford Coppola's epic war film "Apocalypse Now."

The play, “Gonna See a Movie Called Gunga Din,” debuting at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Bushwick Starr theater at 207 Starr St., contrasts 12 veterans’ testimonies with scenes from 15 war movies.

“If you’re watching a Hollywood film, people will embellish the facts to make it more interesting,” explained Moen, 30, a Fire Direction Officer who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In real life, he noted, “the stories are interesting enough.”

Director Mark Sitko, of the theater company Van Cougar, took his own artistic liberties in compiling stories for the play. After interviewing a dozen veterans from wars ranging from World War II to Iraq, he combined pieces of their accounts into a narrative spoken by six archetypal characters: the Protagonist, the Disturbed, the Drill Sergeant, the Best Friend, the Girl Friend, and the Enemy.

The characters mimic the veterans' words verbatim, all the way down to their style of speaking, but don't actually identify the people they are portraying, Sitko said.

“In our society, you can be held accountable for everything you say,” Sitko said, “so I’m trying to protect the people in such a way that it’s not a particular person — it’s a veteran speaking.”

Meanwhile, Sitko hopes the insertion of scenes from 15 movies into the play will prompt an examination of war’s portrayal, both in reality and on the big screen.

He said the strongest moments come from "Apocalypse Now" and the 1946 World War II film "The Best Years of Our Lives," while the most outlandish scene shows violence against a captive in the Sean Penn film "Casualties of War."

“I think it will be clear that certain moments line up with the honesty and integrity these films maintain,” said Sitko, whose first play "Rocky Philly" also incorporated film and was the first production at the Bushwick Starr in 2009.

Although Captain Moen said he was unaware of the play’s experimental nature, he trusts it will justly portray veterans’ experiences.

“I’m not nervous, because I told the Army’s story,” he said. “You talk from your experiences and hope somebody in the audience walks away with an idea of what these men and women are doing for them.”

Moen — who served in Mosul, Iraq, from 2006 to 2008 and in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province from late 2010 until this past summer — called his fellow soldiers “heroes.”

“War is difficult to talk about,” he admitted of his interview with Sitko, “but it’s important to talk about it.”

Tickets to “Gonna See a Movie Called Gunga Din,” are $15. The production offers free admission for those who have served in the military, and runs from Wednesday through Sunday until Feb. 11.

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