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Ooh, Ooh, OOHRAH!

Bekah Brunstetter talks about her new play at Atlantic Stage 2.

Bekah Brunstetter
(© Helen Cris)
"I am delicately, desperately emerging," says playwright Bekah Brunstetter, whose newest work OOHRAH! is now receiving its world premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company's Stage Two space. The writer has had several works presented in New York -- including You May Go Now and To Nineveh -- is the resident playwright at Ars Nova, and has a commission from the Roundabout Underground, but OOHRAH! is the first of her works to receive a full production from one of the city's major non-profit theaters. "I definitely have a great sense of satisfaction now that I feel like my work has started to pay off," she remarks. "But I'm not quitting my day job; I'm not that adventurous yet." Here's what Brunstetter had to say about this new play .

THEATERMANIA: OOHRAH! takes place in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which TIME magazine has described as "America's Most Pro-Military Town." Can you talk about the setting?
BEKAH BRUNSTETTER: I'm from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which is about an hour away, and I have three brothers who are or were marines. I wanted to set the play in a very military-friendly community, where it's just a part of the world, so that I could put aside all of the political discussion about whether or not we should be sending people to Iraq, and all of that.

TM: So your play basically uses the military town setting as a backdrop for a different kind of story?
BB: Exactly. When I first started writing it, I was thinking about this guy who just really, really, really wants to be a marine because it's just what he's always wanted to do -- which is something I got from my brothers. But as I was writing the first draft, there was the character of this woman who's married to an army captain who's constantly being deployed, as well as her sister, who's engaged to a civilian -- even though her brother and her dad and everyone else has served in the military. The women became almost more interesting to me than what was going on with the soldiers. So it really became an ensemble piece about this family, and what it is emotionally to be a soldier, to have a soldier as a husband, or to have a soldier as a brother.

TM: Can you tell me about the play's title?
BB: It's a word that marines made their own -- their own greeting, their own sound. The marines say "Oohrah!," the army says "Hooah!," and it's totally different. That's something else that figures into the play, as you've got an army guy and a marine guy, which is, in a way, like night and day. There's so much competition between the divisions of the armed forces. My dad's in the navy, but my brothers are marines, so I always heard lots of that.

TM: What sparked your idea for the play?
BB: I went home last summer because my two little brothers went to Iraq. I happened to be there over Veteran's Day, and there was this big veterans' luncheon after the church service we attended. My brothers were in their dress blues, and all these older veterans were coming up to them all morning, greeting them with "Oohrah, soldier. Oohrah. Oohrah." I'd heard my brothers say it to each other before, but there was something really powerful about the respect that it sort of entails as a word passed between two people. These guys are often-times men of few words, and that particular word is just so loaded.

TM: Some of your other plays, like You May Go Now, are wacky and surreal. What's the tone of this one?
BB: I love theatricality, and I love worlds that have sort of weird rules but are grounded in reality. But when I started working on this play, I sort of gave myself over to having it be this very natural, very real play. That's kind of the first time I've really done that -- but I can't bring myself to write anything that doesn't have any humor in it. I would get bored or mad if I wasn't allowing myself to make myself laugh while I'm working on it.