The experience of a soldier needs no dramatization: War is more bloody, violent and emotionally tolling than imaginable. For that reason, it is most appropriate that a play dealing with such heavy material would be written by someone who has experienced it firsthand.
Jack Eubanks ’17, a Posse student, along with Alexandre Buffington and Alivia Tagliaferri, began working on “Beyond the Wall,” a script based on the book of the same name by Tagliaferri in 2010.
The play explores how wars affect the people who fight in them. As part of Modfest, it was presented as a dramatic reading Tuesday, Feb. 4 at the Streep Studio in Vogelstein.
The show focuses on two stories of combat: one storyline follows a soldier fighting in the Vietnam War and the other follows a soldier fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The work examines the relationship between two soldiers who, though having fought in different wars, nonetheless share similar experiences. Split into three acts, the play follows soldiers going through training, engaging in combat, and struggling down the strenuous road to recovery made necessary by the horrors of war.
Eubanks himself suffered three injuries, including one he sustained in Iraq which required him to once again learn how to speak, read and write. Eubanks earned Purple Hearts for his service.
For Eubanks, the show transcends its artistic value, serving to assist in his own individual healing process. Initially, the show was not even intended to be performed on stage. “It was originally a screenplay when we first started writing—we originally wanted to do a film. About a year in we switched, so now the format is pretty unique. It almost reads as a film and there is a lot of projection work.” he said.
Now, as a work of theater, Eubanks maintained that “Beyond the Wall” allows for the audience to access moments of lightness and laughter along with intensity and seriousness. “It’s a very dark and sad play…Usually half the audience cries at one point. My mom cried when she was just reading it,” said Eubanks. “There are about 67 scenes that are all short and you’re jumping timelines and jumping characters. You have to pay attention a little bit. There is a very rich dialogue and most people don’t realize how much time has gone by. Me, I’ve heard it many times so it doesn’t have as much of an emotional effect, but there are still many scenes that come from my own experiences—those are a lot harder.”
Seeing these real-life experiences portrayed on stage might have been difficult for the audience, but it was harder yet for Eubanks and Buffington to even get them written into the script. When faced with the need to make changes to certain scenes, they encountered emotional and psychological barriers that hampered the process. “Instead of doing that in a day, it was taking three months because we were still recovering ourselves. It was hard to write,” said Eubanks.
The show has traveled across the nation and has been presented at major theaters and universities. For its performance at Vassar, Eubanks took a backseat to his project and handed the reigns over to Emily Breeze ’14, who directed the show. Breeze is a drama major and member of No Offense, one of Vassar’s coed comedy troupes. “Emily is really phenomenal for what she did,” said Eubanks, “Because we have been working on it for three and a half years, we kept getting stuck. She would say ‘maybe you should change this a little bit,’ so we’d change the scene or bits of language that sounded fine in our heads, but we didn’t have that removal from it.”
Throughout the process, Breeze was in constant contact with Eubanks as well as being in communication with Buffington. Eubanks would sometimes attend rehearsals and give notes, which was helpful for Breeze; she often went to him with questions which a veteran could answer.
For Breeze, who has done directing work in the past, directing “Beyond the Wall” was not the easiest of jobs. “It’s hard because there are points in the script that are very funny. Jack and the other authors do a good job of layering in some humor with it, but it is difficult and really hard to hear about it, to read it about it and to see it being performed on stage,” said Breeze. “It’s hard to work on it artistically because you feel like you want to do it justice but you feel like you don’t know how to because you have no context. There’s nothing there that feels real sometimes because it’s so far out of what most students have experienced.”
James Steerman, a retired professor of film and drama at Vassar, also played a large role in the production process. After attending a reading of “Beyond the Wall” earlier in the semester, Steerman gave Eubanks notes that affected changes within the show.
“I told him that I thought the script/play worked, really worked…The audience at the reading seemed firmly engaged from beginning to end. I told him his play was about something truly important,” wrote Steerman in an emailed statement. “The script is very well done and makes a strong and important statement about the horror of war and particularly the experience of war by young American men and women. It has a great deal of dramatic power,” he concluded.