Other than those who have served in the military and those who have loved them, few of us understand the human toll that war takes not just on the battlefield but on the home front. Basetrack One-Eight was a website created in 2010 by photojournalists embedded in the 1st Battalion/8th Marines that transmitted images and reports from southern Afghanistan and allowed Marines to stay in touch with family and friends back home during their deployment. En Garde Arts' production of BASETRACK Live, now making its New York premiere as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's 2014 Next Wave Festival, may bring the rest of us as close to understanding the devastating effects of war as any theatrical piece can.
Combining live music, projections of interviews with Marines, and a two-character dramatization of a couple struggling with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, BASETRACK Live begins with a musical overture reminiscent of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and with images of Marines as they are interviewed about their experiences in Afghanistan. The outstanding musical group includes Trevor Exter on cello, Kenneth Rodriguez on trumpet, Melanie "Mazz" Swift on violin, and Daniele Cavalca on percussion and keyboards.
This talented ensemble of four provides the heartbeat to the show with sometimes haunting, sometimes harrowing music composed by Michelle DiBucci, Edward Bilous, and Greg Kalember. Much more than mere background, the show's score mirrors the lives and the relationship of a married couple, real-life Marine AJ Czubai (played by former Marine Corps Sergeant Tyler LaMarr) and his wife, Melissa (Ashley Bloom).
As delivered by LaMarr and Bloom, AJ and Melissa's words, taken verbatim from social media texts and interviews, resonate with an earthy realism. AJ stands front and center, while Melissa (positioned at a distance on Caleb Wertenbaker's simple but ingenious set) sits behind a scrim at a table as she talks into the camera of an open laptop, implicitly telling us that this is where she spends most of her time. They tell the story of their first meeting, then of AJ's traumatizing deployment during which he was seriously injured, and his eventual return home, where he struggles with alcohol abuse and finds himself no longer able to interact with his wife and participate in civilian life. Melissa's eventual separation from AJ inspires him to seek help, and his triumph over his trauma inspires hope that healing is possible after experiencing horror, though we are never allowed to forget (nor should we) that not all troops who return home receive the help they need in time.
Director Seth Bockley has created a well-integrated, multilayered series of experiences that can only be appreciated in a theater. Television programs about the war in Afghanistan simply cannot achieve the immediacy of AJ Czubai's story or of the agonizingly moving interviews of the Marines we see projected large on the screen. Those of us fortunate enough never to have undergone the horror of the battlefield and its devastating aftereffects are not exempt from trying to understand. Though it's impossible to do so without experiencing war firsthand, BASETRACK Live does get us closer to that understanding and serves as an intimate, important reminder that war affects us all.
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