Battle wounds: Women at War in Iraq explores abuse, hostility in the ranks

Review in the Portland Phoenix by Megan Grumbling, March 18, 2015

In Helen Benedict’s play The Lonely Soldier: Women at War in Iraq, the women of the play are engaged in more than one war: They must contend not only with a hostile enemy, but with the disrespect, hostility and even aggression of their own fellow troops. The Lonely Soldier tells the true stories of seven real women whose experiences in the military left them disillusioned, hurt or damaged. This superb and important production — a joint presentation of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, The University of Maine at Augusta’s Veteran Achievement Project, the Maine Humanities Council, the Maine Arts Commission, the Maine Community Foundation, the UMA Diversity Committee, the UMA Student Government Association, and the UMA Activities Program — is touring the state this month, under the direction of Jeri Pitcher.

Beth Somerville playing Clara in The Lonely Soldier: Women at War in Iraq,
Beth Somerville playing Clara in The Lonely Soldier: Women at War in Iraq

First produced in New York in 2009, The Lonely Soldier presents the interwoven monologues of seven women veterans, based on oral history interviews conducted by Benedict, a journalist and novelist who writes frequently on sexual assault in the military. The arc of stories starts with enlistment; we’re introduced to a wide range of women, backgrounds and reasons for enlisting, before following them through the challenges and affronts of life during wartime in Iraq.

Santiaga (Beverly Mann), a Native American in her forties and married to a man who raped her, has been a proud drill sergeant for years, but in Iraq, she finds herself humiliated by command and concerned about soldiers’ lack of psychological care after combat; while younger Maria (Catherine Buxton), a 21-year-old Mexican-American, talks of not being taken seriously by her male colleagues, and about the comforts and trials of romance in the military. The violence of Washington, D.C. made African-American Terris (Rene Johnson) seek a way out in the military – but in Iraq, she questions the judgment of her command, which doesn’t go over well coming from a woman.

Read the full review in the Portland Phoenix