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'Theater of War' brings post-traumatic stress discussion, award-winning cast, to Portland

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'Theater of War' brings post-traumatic stress discussion, award-winning cast, to Portland

PORTLAND — The organizers behind the upcoming performance of a 2,500-year-old play hope to address a very modern problem.

"Theater of War" is an event that combines a dramatic reading of the ancient Greek play "Ajax" with a town hall-style forum on post-traumatic stress disorder.

The free event will be held Thursday from 5:30-7 p.m. at Portland High School's John Ford Theater, 284 Cumberland Ave. The play stars two-time Emmy winner and Academy Award-nominee Mare Winningham, and Zach Grenier from the television series "The Good Wife."

"Theater of War" is sponsored by the Lunder-Dineen Health Education Alliance of Maine, a nonprofit organization that typically offers interdisciplinary health education to health care providers. But the ideal audience is the general public, said Denise O'Connell, the alliance's senior program manager.

The goal is to shine a light on "the challenges people face when returning from war, whether you're the warrior, the spouse, the community or a best friend," O'Connell said. "This play was written thousands of years ago, so it was happening then. It's normal."

The evening will begin with an hour-long performance of Sophocles' "Ajax," which depicts the aftermath of a warrior's traumatic experiences from multiple perspectives, including his wife and friends.

Next, the actors will leave the stage and be replaced by a panel that includes a Vietnam War veteran, a female veteran from Operation Iraqi Freedom, a clinician, a spouse of a recent veteran and an active-duty soldier, O'Connell said.

For the next 30 minutes, the play's director, Bryan Doerries, will moderate a discussion between audience members and the panel.

"He is wonderful," O'Connell said of the director. "He's very engaging and disarming. He gets strangers talking to one another in an auditorium. It's usually effortless."

"Theater of War" is a project of Outside the Wire, a social impact company that uses theater and other media to address public health and social issues. Doerries has presented more than 200 performances for military and civilian audiences throughout the United States, and in Europe and Japan. More than "40,000 service members, veterans, and their families have attended and participated in 'Theater of War' performances and discussions," according to the company website.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, affects roughly 5.2 million Americans a year, according to statistics from the National Center for PTSD. About 8 percent of Americans will have PTSD at some point in their lives.

PTSD is caused by witnessing or surviving some form of trauma, including accidents, assault, combat and natural disasters.

"About 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience at least one trauma in their lives," according to the national center. "Although over half of us go through some type of trauma, a much smaller percent develop PTSD."

The center estimates that as many as 20 percent of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD, but it is also common among veterans from previous conflicts. As many as 10 percent of Desert Storm veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans live with the condition.

Maine has more than 140,000 veterans.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.