Q&A: Playwright Andrea Stolowitz

The Portland playwright’s military-focused play Ithaka premieres at Artists Rep this month.

By John Chandler May 1, 2013

Ithaka portrays a marine’s return from her tour in Afghanistan. How did you, a nonmilitary person, come up with that?
I wanted to write about a friendship dissolving. I thought, “Who are these people?” And it came to me: military. Then I thought, “No, no, not that—I don’t know anything about the military. Couldn’t they be war correspondents? People who write?”

How did you get your material?
I did interviews at the Portland Veterans’ Center at 122nd and Halsey. I was really worried at first. Why would anyone want to talk to me? A civilian, who knows nothing about the military? Wouldn’t they think I’m a fraud, trying to co-opt their experiences? But they were happy to know that somebody cared. Everyone I talked to volunteered.

May 28–June 30
Artists Repertory Theatre
1515 SW Morrison St

What are veterans struggling with?
How hard it is to have free time. Deployed, they’re either working or sleeping—no free time. Many vets talk about how hard it is to be around family after getting back. And finances. When you’re away, there’s nothing to buy. When you come home, you have to deal with money again. People affected by PTSD talk about being pissed off by the clueless public.

How did those interviews generate authenticity?
The vets all recommended books for me to read. And I had all these specific questions, like, “What’s leave called? What’s the protocol for this or that? What’s the most up-to-date time when I could set the play?” I had a marine correct my draft for me. Apparently I was spelling “0900” wrong. 

Did you get the impression that the military has figured out how to care for vets who come home with psychological or social wounds?
They encourage people to get help now, but the problem is deeper. The military health system is not equipped to deal with the sheer numbers of soldiers who need treatment. And we don’t understand everything about PTSD—there’s a lot of research, but not many answers about treatment. Therapy takes time and money, and the military system just is not equipped to deal with it all. 

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