TDPS' "Reentry: The Process of Resilience" Powerfully Celebrates Cal Veterans
A moving tribute to veterans, the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies outdid themselves with a production so unique, unconventional, and poignant in Joe Goode’s Reentry: The Process of Resilience. Known for his choreography, Goode combined interpretative movement with something he likes to call “verbatim theater,” meaning that the entire production was comprised solely from real stories and not created by a playwright. But what made this unconventional style of theater so emotionally charged was the personal connection it has to the UC Berkeley campus: all of the stories came from Cal veterans and recent veteran graduates--both who did and did not see combat--on their experiences assimilating into civilian life in college. Paired with Goode’s undeniably gracious and meaningful choreography, “Reentry” was a bold, daring risk that paid off.
Albeit at times a bit awkward or confusing, the choreography overall enhanced the performance as a whole. Even in scenes where the movements were a bit distracting, the synchronicity, elegance, and passion in which the ensemble performed them alleviated any of the awkwardness. Instead, most of the play flourished under the dynamic performative effect. In one scene, one veteran excitedly describes herself getting into Cal with the ensemble carrying her as if she is soaring through the sky, evoking her ecstatic emotions better than words could. In another, veterans described how critical a role friends played in their well being with two ensemble members running around in the center, provoking nostalgia of good and bad times with comrades.
“The movement, the gestures, the abstract sounds provide a sort of subtext to expand the possible ways to understand and appreciate these words. Sometimes the movement is complementary to the language and sometimes it is contradictory. I call this a ‘collision’ of felt materials. It allows the viewer multiple entry points, so he or she can decide what the essential meaning is and relate it perhaps more to their own lives instead of just experiencing it as someone else’s story,” Joe Goode explains about the use of movement in the play.
Along with choreography, the production thrives off of the raw, real, and emotional stories that the veterans of our campus so graciously shared with Goode. From getting into Cal to divorce to coping with mental health, the stories the veterans shared left them bare before the audience. Because of this, the production focused less on the brutality of war and instead emphasized the nuanced humanity of the harsh and genuine realities of life in the military. “Since we were using interviews from Cal veterans, I had a difficult time understanding the motivations and intentions of the speech. Acting verbatim text is tricky because there's no playwright and rhetoric architecture to depend on. Plays typically design an overall theme or emotional arc and without this basic structure, it was a challenge to find the central heart of the veteran's stories. Hardly any of us are trained playwrights, so our communication with one another is more indirect and ambiguous than we think,” Hesed Kim mentioned about the challenges of performing and doing justice to the veterans’ stories. However, if the ensemble ever struggled with the text, the audience would never know. The ensemble carried themselves with such fervor and emotion that I felt as if I was truly listening to the veterans themselves speak.
One set of stories that Goode especially highlighted was two women’s experiences serving. Uncensored and unfiltered, the women shared the struggles of being a woman in the army, emphasizing issues like disrespect from supervisors and sexual assault. But what was most powerful about the scene was the strength and perseverance that the women exuded even when recounting harrowing hardship or moments where they had to prove themselves. The movements complimented the scene perfectly, as the fellow cast members used their chairs to build makeshift prisons surrounding the women to represent the oppression of women in military roles. “I am not a victim,” one woman said. And through sharing these stories, they didn’t feel like victims. They felt like warriors.
Another poignant moment came near the end. The stage set up with a half arc of chairs. A veteran described what it felt like to lose friends in the army, but also mentioned the willpower it takes to keep going. He moved forward in the chairs, until he shared with the audience that he allowed himself to feel his sorrow. And as he felt his sorrow, so did the audience. Deeply moving and beautiful, this scene alone captures the entire essence of the production: the humanity, the happiness, the grievousness, and the brutality that veterans endure that culminate in the strength to be resilient.
Joe Goode’s close-to-home production thrives from the passion that he and his ensemble injected into every word spoken and every movement performed. Emphasizing some of the most pertinent issues not only in the military, but also on campus--including anxiety and depression, sexual assault, gender discrimination, and privilege--Reentry: The Process of Resilience highlights the importance of resiliency and makes it relatable to anyone in the audience. It also extrapolates on one of the most neglected parts of the military experience: how to return to civilian life after serving. While it doesn’t prescribe solutions or answers, it forces us to take a closer look at the people who serve to protect us and the mental and physical ramifications that they endure in their social, academic, and civilian lives.
“Life is hard and messy and sometimes we find ourselves in situations that require great strength and compassion to endure. We won’t always get it right and we will always make mistakes, but we can achieve amazing things if we have the determination to get back up after we have fallen down,” Goode says about the resiliency he conveyed in his production.
If you have to see one play this academic year, let it be this.
Catch TDPS’ “Reentry: The Process of Resilience” in Durham Studio Theater on November 17th, 18th and 19th at 8:00pm or on November 19th and 20th at 2:00pm.
Images: Julia Zave