- The Washington Times - Monday, November 11, 2019

The one-man play “The American Soldier,” to be presented Wednesday at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, uses the letters between service members and their families to offer a view of the lives, loves and losses of those who go to war — and those they leave behind.

“It is a glimpse inside the mind of a veteran,” said military counselor Laurie Ciavardini, who has seen the play twice. She said it highlights the pain and confusion in the transition from wartime military existence to peacetime civilian life, a period that has frustrated some of her patients.

Perhaps most remarkable about the play, which has brought veterans and their families to tears, is that is written and performed by an actor who has never served in the military.

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Douglas Taurel portrays 14 different characters — warriors and their relatives — from the American Revolution, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. To acquire a deeper understanding, he read hundreds of letters from veterans of every American war and researched interviews of veterans and their families, he says.

“[Veterans] feel like they are being forgotten and their sacrifice has been for nothing,” said Mr. Taurel, 47.

He played high school football in his native Houston, and several military recruiters reached out to him, but those conversations ended quickly when he told them he is blind in one eye.

He says he became inspired to write “The American Soldier” about 10 years ago after reading news stories about veterans struggling financially and emotionally; one — about a vet going door-to-door asking for odd jobs to earn a living — touched him deeply.

“You shouldn’t risk your life multiple times for your country and come back and have trouble supporting your family,” said Mr. Taurel, who has performed his play in 16 cities in 11 states over the last five years.

Rob Merrill, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, has seen “The American Soldier” twice. He said he has become teary during some scenes because of how much they resonate with his own experience.

“Feelings of anxiety, feelings of depression and feelings of no longer belonging to the civilian population because of my combat role,” Mr. Merrill said. “Those feelings we have to suppress them in order to try to still engage with a civilian population and it becomes an internal conflict because there is very little outlet.”

Mr. Merrill said the play not only accurately portrays the veterans’ emotions but also gets right many of the details that veterans care about, like the flags and the uniform.

After each performance, Mr. Taurel holds a question-and-answer session with the audience, and invariably the question is asked, “Do you want to send your son off to fight?”

Mr. Taurel, who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, and has a 10-year-old son, advocates for mandatory service in the military or the Peace Corps, saying it would help break down barriers and lessen polarization.

“Less than 1% of the population is connected to the military, we are not sweating together anymore,” he said.

With its darker images of warfare and grief, his play also presents the beauty of service, expressed in themes like brotherhood, discipline, teamwork and self sacrifice.

“At some point they quit fighting the war for themselves and start fighting for each other,” Mr. Taurel said.

The actor/playwright, who has appeared in CBS’ “Blue Bloods” and Showtime’s “The Affair,” said he hopes “The American Soldier” will help foster a better understanding of veterans by voicing their experiences.

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