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A Shot Away: Personal Accounts of Military Sexual Trauma
Aux Dog Theatre

Also see Sarah's review of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up

A Shot Away
Angela Littleton, Katherine Ygbuhay, Erin Best
Albuquerque has several small theater groups (seven or eight at least) that must be hanging on by a thread. They can't possibly be covering their expenses by ticket sales, and we don't have a big donor base in the area. You would think that these companies would be putting on tried and true audience favorites in order to survive. Instead, most of the time they bring us new or unfamiliar works to edify us and challenge us and sometimes shock us—whether they are likely to draw in a big audience or not. One of these theaters is Aux Dog. ("Aux," by the way, is not French. It's short for "auxiliary," so it's OK to pronounce the x.)

Aux Dog Theatre is currently presenting a little-known work called A Shot Away by Donna Fiumano-Farley. To my knowledge, it has only been produced twice before: Off-Off-Broadway and in St. Louis. It is not a standard "play." In the author's words, it is a "testimonial theater piece." In effect, it is a documentary acted out on a stage. Like all good documentaries, it teaches you something you didn't know much about. Or, if you thought you knew about the subject, it teaches you that you didn't know as much as you thought you did.

What A Shot Away teaches us about is MST. Don't know what MST is? Neither did I. Military Sexual Trauma. Who came up with this acronym? Probably the same people who brought us TBI and PTSD—so much less visceral than "concussion" or "brain damage" or "shell shock." You can't have an unmediated response to these acronyms. First you have to remind yourself what the letters stand for, and by then, the effect is blunted. "Rape" is way too much of a four-letter word for the military to use. So now it's MST.

There are four women and two men who relate their stories of MST directly to the audience. The words are verbatim from interviews the author conducted with these veterans. The seventh character is a woman who did not survive to give an interview. We hear her story indirectly, from her mother and sister. There are three other men in the cast who play various soldiers, officers, functionaries, etc. If the incidents told are troubling, even sometimes horrifying, what's even scarier is the way they are handled by the military chain of command, HR, and legal system. The most revealing lines go something like: "You think you have rights? The Constitution doesn't apply to you. You're in the military."

The episodes are not uninterrupted monologues. We get fragments of narrative from each character until we finally can piece together what happened to them. Their histories are spread over time and space—some overseas, some in the U.S., some recent, some more than 20 years ago. It seems that, although the military, like most big corporations, now has EEO officers and mandatory training on sexual harassment, not much has really changed.

It's not only the stories that are challenging. The staging itself must have been a challenge. Even though it's a unit set (simple but effective, by Karin Pitman), there are so many entrances and exits by the several characters that the cast, the director (David Allen Newman, under the mentorship of Victoria Liberatori) and the stage manager (N'nette Widener) deserve applause for making it look effortless.

The acting is all very good, some of it even better than good. Some of the actors have more stage experience than others, and the best work is done by Antonya Molleur, Erin Best, Angela Littleton, Gene Dunne, Yolanda Luchetti-Knight and Katherine Ygbuhay, but everybody else is fine, too.

How is it that A Shot Away found its way to Albuquerque? It turns out that Michael, one of the characters on stage, is Mike Matthews, who now lives in Albuquerque. His wife, Geri Lynn Weinstein Matthews, is a social worker with a special interest in post-traumatic stress of various types. There is a support group of MST survivors on Facebook, where she learned that there was a play being written about women who had been victimized while in the military. She contacted the author and asked if she was planning on including any interviews with men who had been raped while in the service.

It's hard to believe, but there have been more men raped in the military than women, simply because there have always been so many more men in uniform than women. There are apparently 18 or 19 suicides a day by veterans, and a significant percentage of them have been victims of MST. Thanks to the Matthewses, the work took on the shape that it has today, involving women and men. There is also a movie covering similar material called The Invisible War that will be premiering at Sundance later this month (January 2012). But you can get a more intimate and up-front experience by going to the Aux Dog now.

The title, for those too young to remember, is from the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter," with the lines "War, children, it's just a shot away" and "Rape, murder, it's just a shot away," with that amazing vocal by Merry Clayton where the words "rape" and "murder" sound like they're lacerating her vocal cords as they erupt out of her. You have to see the show to see how appropriate the title is. I read somewhere, a long time ago, that the Stones became a different band when they ended the song with "I tell you love, sister, it's just a kiss away." If Mick and Keith could put their "Under My Thumb" and "Look at that Stupid Girl" days behind them, why can't the US military?

A Shot Away: Personal Accounts of Military Sexual Trauma by Donna Fiumano-Farley is being presented by the Aux Dog Theatre on Monte Vista near Central NE in Albuquerque, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 and Sundays at 2:00, through January 29, 2012. Tickets are $16 general, $12 for students, seniors and military. Reservations and info at auxdog.com.


Photo: Joanna Furgal

--Dean Yannias



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