Theatre Review: Raconteur Theatre’s emotional and intense performance of Reservoir explores psychological trauma
In an article by Steve Vogel, “Army probing PTSD diagnoses” published in the Washington Post only last month, it was reported that the Army has launched an investigation into its “its handling of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other behavioral health evaluations at all of its medical facilities since 2001, in response to fears that some soldiers had their diagnoses reversed because of the costs of caring for them.”
The issue was brought to light when a “special forensic psychiatric team that in 2007 began evaluating mental health diagnoses of service members preparing to leave the military.” That team reversed the PTSD diagnosis of at least 290 people. Since the investigation, 400 cases were looked into and at least 100 of the PTSD diagnoses restored. The problem was discovered at just one base, the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, but all facilities will be investigated.
How a soldier is diagnosed is directly related to how much money they receive in benefits. The article goes on to say that according to William Keppler, the head of psychiatric team at Lewis-McChord, for every soldier diagnosed with PTSD, it “costs the military $1.5 million in health benefits and pension payments.” The investigation is to find out if cost was a factor in the reversal of the PTSD diagnoses.
The way veterans with PTSD are handled is one of the main themes found in Raconteur Theatre performance of Eric Henry Sanders’ play Reservoir. Based on Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, Reservior was written in November of 2010 and updates the classic play to modern times.
Sean Reid directed Raconteur Theatre’s performance of the play. This run will be the third production of the play. “With the ever increasing suicide rate among soldiers and now the recent killings of Afghani civilians by a rogue US soldier, I feel that it is perhaps more important than ever that this story be told honestly,” says Reid. His hopes are that the play will continue to promote dialogue, understanding, and healing for our community, military personnel, and veterans.
PTSD was a term first coined in the 1970s after the war in Vietnam. It took another ten years before the term was formally recognized as a mental diagnosis. Some of the symptoms used to diagnose someone with PTSD include “re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal—such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance.”
Chris Martin is perfectly cast as Private Frank Hasek, a young service man who has returned state-side after being at war in country for over a year. He brings a feeling of nervous uneasiness to nearly every scene he is present and you are just not sure what he is going to do. He displays and conveys all of the aforementioned symptoms.
The lack of a support system really does him in. He is afraid to discuss his problems with his girlfriend Marisa (played by Ariana Cohen), also the mother of their new son. He feels telling her what he has experienced would cause her to no longer love him. Even though thinking of Marisa was the only thing that kept Hasek’s dreary days at war bearable, once he is home with her all they can do is bicker.
Cohen brings lots of emotion to her scenes and you are able to empathize with her. She has no support system either and feels totally alone. The stress of having a different version of her boyfriend home to that of being a new and inexperienced parent, you have another character with a recipe for disaster.
Hasek is also afraid to discuss his problems with the doctor (played by Shana Kramer) Marisa finds for him. His several appointments with her are stilted and pressed for time. It’s about his third visit, over halfway into the play, when Hasek finally breaks down and shares the horrific experience that caused his mental aftermath. As he is speaking, the simple stage slowly darkens until the lighting and set making up a makeshift Jeep creates the hazy light for the horrible situation he is describing. It’s the shining moment for the play and it is deeply moving.
Things become more intense when Hasek discovers Marisa is having an affair with his Staff Sergeant (played by Aleksandar Zivkovic) through a casual comment by his friend Andre (played by Gabriel Caldwell). Zivkovic does a nice job balancing the harsher scenes with Martin, the tender scenes with Cohen, and a condescending scene with Kramer. The tense opening scene where Hasek is being reprimanded by the Sergeant generates the only laugh of the play.
Reservoir is a deeply moving and intense play with elements of sadness and surprise. I thought I had the ending all figured out and was totally caught off guard.
June is PTSD Awareness Month and June 27th is PTSD Awareness Day. If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, VA wants to help. Start here: www.ptsd.va.gov.
Written by Eric Henry Sanders and produced by Raconteur Theatre Company, Reservoir will be performed at MadLab Theatre and Gallery at 227 N 3rd St. Columbus, 43215. Showtimes are June 16, 21, 22, 23 at 8pm and Sunday June 17 at 2pm. The play runs two and half hours with a ten minute intermission. Tickets are $15, $10 for students and senior citizens. Visit rtheatre.org for more information.