Student play honors Veterans



By Martha Groppo

Actors and actresses are accustomed to playing dead or fictional people, but UK theater students had the challenge of portraying fellow students on Friday night.

The final performance of “Bringing It Home: Voices of Student Veterans” required five theater students to perform the exact words of five UK veterans who were interviewed for the Louie B.Nunn Center for Oral History’s “From Combat to Kentucky” oral history project.

One of the play’s many emotional moments occurred when Jonathan Herst, played by theatre senior Alex Koehl, described learning he had lost his leg.

“Well, at that time a female E5 medic walked up,” Herst said. “She looked at me in the eyes and I saw her look down at my leg. And then she turned around and threw up. And I knew right then and there, I said, ‘Okay doc, obviously my leg is gone, so just put me out and I don’t want to remember anything.’”

“These actors did a phenomenal job representing these real words,” Doug Boyd, director of the Nunn Center said. “This has been one of the most effective ways I have seen our interviews used.”

The production revived a play performed in the spring and produced by collaboration between the Veterans Resource Center, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and the UK Department of Theatre. Representatives from all three groups were in the audience. The audience was limited to 150 guests, a manageable size for the intimate setting in Buell Armory.

Megan Henke, theatre junior, was one student in attendance. She came to watch her theater classmates and was impressed by their mastery of the difficult script which demanded not only the memorization of lengthy interview excerpts, but also the memorization of pauses, “ums,” and hesitations the veterans used during their interviews. She attributed the actors’ success partially to their experience speaking to the veterans in person.

“They got to interview these people, so they know them much better than we do,” Henke said. She also praised her classmates’ talents, however, saying they effectively became their characters while playing their roles.

She noted that Joe Fields, the senior psychology and communications major playing Stephanie Murphy, mastered Murphy’s distinctive diction and verbal halts. She said Fields really sounded like Murphy.

“That’s not how she [Fields] talks at all,” Henke said. She was equally complimentary of the four actors playing male veterans.

“None of these guys are serious,” she said, “They are goofballs.”

The usually funny theater students became somber and respectful for their roles. “You don’t joke about this kind of stuff,” Henke said.

Dana LoMonaco, animal science pre-vet junior, agreed.

“It’s touching and shocking to hear all this,” LoMonaco said.

She also commented on the play’s unconventional structure. During the play, audience members changed locations three times, moving to different areas of the armory designed to represent boot camp, combat and campus. In the combat area, audience members sat on foam squares, and the actors moved around and amongst them, creating an interactive acting environment.

“You get more involved,” LoMonaco said of the environment. “It becomes more personal.”

“I think it’s cool they are doing something different with the setting,” Henke said. “You feel like you are a part of it.”

“This is what we live for,” Herman Farrell, the plays director and main writer said, “nights like tonight, where everything came together perfectly.” When he asked the cast from the spring performance to return for a revival performance, they all came back. “This is a testament to their rigor, their talent and their character,” Farrell said.

Coordinator for the Veterans Resource Center, Anthony Dotson was full of praise for the play’s actors.

“I think I’m as proud of those young people as I am any of my soldiers,” Dotson, the former commander of the ROTC at UK and a Lieutenant Colonel, said.

He said the play helped the veterans involved by letting them know people cared about their stories.

“You’ve heard five stories tonight,” Dotson said. “There are over 500 here on campus.”

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