Based on the classic Sophocles tragedy Ajax, “Ajax in Iraq,” written by Ellen McLaughlin, acts as a parallel to the original by telling the same kind of story set in the current war in Iraq.
In the original, a Greek warrior named Ajax is brainwashed by the goddess Athena into slaughtering many innocent creatures thinking them to be the enemy.
When Ajax regains his senses, he leaves home to “redeem” himself only for him to be found dead from suicide.
The end of the story sees Ajax’s brother Teucer arguing with the kings Agamemnon and Menelaus about whether someone as flawed as Ajax deserves a hero’s burial, until Ajax’s rival Odysseus arrives and says that even a flawed hero deserves to be respected.
In the story set in Iraq, a female soldier, AJ, is going through the hells of war. AJ reaches her breaking point when she is raped by her commanding sergeant.
In her shattered state of mind, AJ tries to soldier on, but eventually commits suicide.
If I had to describe this play in one word, it would be “intense.” The actors get the message across strongly that war is absolute hell.
Each soldier has something to say about being in the blistering heat, the scorching desert, never knowing when they’ll go home. At the same time not having a place back in society when they get there, makes them want to go back into the field, thus repeating the cycle.
The scenes where AJ is raped are difficult to watch, but the actress, social worker major Megan Kathman, really drives the drama home and shows the hell that soldiers go through in war, especially if something like this happens.
Every actor in this play gave a phenomenal performance, with my favorite being Athena, played by Aurora Wu.
She presented the character as so chillingly brutal and just, that the character appeared much more imposing.
Athena acts as a narrator of sorts for the two stories: Ajax is tricked into killing innocents, and the deteriorating sanity of AJ.
She performs the character as both knowledgeable and unsurprised.
It’s like the character knows how the stories will begin and how they will end, but she lets the chips fall where they may.
She’s not a cruel character, rather one that is portrayed as just and unwavering.
Really, the only nitpick I have with the play is the seemingly random Haka dance after the rape scene.
When AJ’s sanity is all but gone, there’s a loud Maori Haka war dance that accompanies it.
This might be more of a “me” problem, but seeing as how the two stories take place in Ancient Greece and Iraq respectively, having a Maori war dance seemed out of place.
Regardless, Ajax in Iraq was a phenomenal telling of two stories of war heroes losing their sanity during war.
Every actor did a fantastic job. I give the entire production a solid 5 out of 5 stars, with two thumbs up!