Saturday, December 6, 2014

'One Night,' Charles Fuller's Play Holds Truisms About PTSD That Relate to Fergurson and NYC

Corporal Horace Lloyd (Grantham Coleman) and Sargent Alicia G. (Rutina Wesley) in Charles Fuller’s One Night at the Cherry Lane Theatre until December 15th, 2013. Photo courtesy of Broadway

I am revisiting the issue of PTSD as revealed in an important play which dealt with it on a powerful level in Charles Fuller's One Night. I am sorry to say that this magnificent production was forced to close early because of the lack of support for it. When I went to Paris earlier this year, a retired French official who worked as a liason for the arts in Louisiana discussed an interesting point about French playwrights and audiences. He said that they enjoyed plays with a message, plays that had powerful themes, plays that established advocacy. The French preferred not to watch frivolous entertainment and especially did not want to pay excessive prices for it. If Fuller's play had been produced in France, most probably it would have had a longer run. It never found its fans in New York and it should have because the protests now are indirectly related to returning vets, the culture of war, PTSD, racism and stresses which cause brutality instead of peace.

It is well known that are veterans are returning home, in record numbers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Though they may be physically whole and appear well on the outside, they may be emotionally and mentally ravaged by the killing zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. What happens even after they’ve received treatment and drug interventions? Will they ever be able to deal or heal? And do any of these Vets ever go onto our police forces in the nation?

The stresses of PTSD for returning Vets highlighted the basic theme of One Night, Charles Fuller’s searing and solidly crafted drama about the impact of the emotional wounds of war which continually upend our veterans’ abilities to live peaceful, regular lives outside war zones. Fuller’s powerful character portrayals of vets, Corporal Horace Lloyd (in a sterling performance by Grantham Coleman), and Sargent Alicia G. (a powerful, engaging and emotionally driven Rutina Wesley) riveted the audience, building complexity throughout the play to the stark conclusion. Fuller’s brilliant writing with each stroke and in each scene strengthened the basic premise and pounded out a theme of even greater relevance: women’s service in the military and their treatment by their fellow soldiers.

 Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of A Soldier’s Play, created immediate tension at the outset. Vets Horace and Alicia burst through the door of a seedy motel room without clothing or any belongings, save Horace’s manila envelop holding a few documents. We learn they’ve barely escaped from a fire in a shelter where they had been living. They were given this room to spend the night until they receive better accommodations. The motel keeper is a predatory type (a beautifully realized performance by Cortez Nance Jr.) whom, we note, is salivating at the presence of disheveled, discomposed Alicia.

We understand that they have landed in one of “those” motels and we understand that Horace is going to have to protect Alicia in this untenable situation from the leering Meny and any others. Alicia is vulnerable and emotionally debilitated; PTSD has backed her into a corner and she can barely make it to the next minute without cringing at the hallucinations of the Sandbox (jargon for the Iraq desert) with visits from an intrusive medic and others. Though Horace also suffers PTSD and has the shakes, he appears to be stronger and is in the lead. He controls their relationship. She is completely dependent upon him for her care, her understanding of their current reality, the situation they find themselves in, and how they are going to get through this one night in this menacing motel.

As they try to settle in and get some rest, the conflicts abound; we come to understand the depth of the trauma they’ve suffered and will continue to suffer, manifested by the content of the flashbacks, hallucinations and their anxiety. Aggression and the potential for violence flares up from their unconscious. The hellish incidents are triggered by seemingly mundane and benign factors. They try to deal; they are on meds. However, their, relationship, the nature of which remains opaque, does little to diffuse the tremulous, strained emotional impact they have on each other.

Through interruptions from Meny (who challenges their identity and purpose at the motel), phone calls from a friend of Horace’s, periodic hallucinations each suffers through, a visit from a bellicose sheriff, and incisive questions from the fire marshal, Horace and Alicia become more unhinged. Fuller’s suspenseful, illuminating writing has constructed a psychological relationship between the two vets which we know is headed toward a violent confrontation.
Cortez Nance Jr. (Meny), Sargent Alicia G. (Rutina Wesley), Corporal Horace Lloyd (Grantham Coleman), (left to right) in Charles Fuller’s One Night at the Cherry Lane Theatre until December 15th. Photo by Bruce Glikas
 When both are forced to confront what happened to Alicia one night back at the forward operating Base Taylor, it is a revelation that one of them cannot endure. It is a revelation that frees the other. For the audience comes an illumination that shines through the darkness of the military’s complacent corruptions which victimize both men and women vets alike. This is an invisible, nascent corruption born of war, nurtured by wartime alienation and encouraged by a disaffected, closed bureaucracy. It is a corruption which breeds cultural disaffection for our vets. It fosters the notion to our vets that they are being thrown on the slag heap of a refuse pile, after their vitality and substance has been mined through and used up by the military.

The production shouted out these themes and many more through Clinton Turner Davis’ tight, logical direction. The clarity was welcome and we were completely present, on edge, watching to see Grantham Coleman and Rutina Wesley deliver the power of Horace’s and Alicia next unscrambling of emotions. What was a reckoning for the ensemble cast were the very real and believable performances, especially for the leads. Their underlying sense of danger, fear, and torment pitted against their hurt and helplessness brought the audience to a place of empathy. On this night the audience never lost sight of suffering humanity, especially at the conclusion.

This was a powerful production thanks to Davis’ direction and the performances of Grantham Coleman, Rutina Wesley, Cortez Nance Jr. with support by Matthew Montelongo (Army Major, State Trooper, Troop 1, Fire Marshall) and K.K. Moggie (Medic, Lieutenant, Troop 2 Captain/Doctor, Interviewer). It was an important production for its vital performances, its potent messages and its cultural currency.

One Night was presented by The Cherry Lane Theatre and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at the Cherry Lane Theatre under the direction of Angelina Fiordellisi. It was forced to close early.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics and can be read HERE. 


As an addendum, individuals who are in war, like individuals in law enforcement undergo tremendous stresses that are little known and that often are not adequately addressed. In Fergurson and in NYC (the Eric Garner chokehold incident), and in many other incidents across this nation (see Stolen Lives Project which enumerates the number of innocents killed at the hands of police nationally since 1990), police have reacted with excessive force. The horror is not only to the families and innocent victims who have been killed. The horror is how the police individually could have effected such bad judgment to kill in the first place. One of the reasons is most likely fear and stress, PTSD of the type and nature that Vets return home with.

Police are supposed to be "strong," "manly" types. At least that is an image that is conveyed to keep a culture "at bay" and afraid. The irony is that no one addresses the tremendous stresses that law enforcement is under. It reminds one of how Vets returning from WWII were supposed to "man up" and not talk about what they saw. How did many "man up?" They abused their wives, their children. They drank and they turned inward and became isolated. Only now we realize they suffered from PTSD. Patrick Stewart, thankfully came out about this in his own life and has worked tirelessly to help those Vets with PTSD and those families and particularly women who have to be sheltered away from an abusive husband or partner.

Police forces across the nation are incredibly stressed. I would maintain many suffer from PTSD. And it is this that has prompted them to kill many innocents in addition to wrong thinking, racist notions, the "US" vs. "THEM" MO, and their forgetting their true mission, that they are PEACE OFFICERS, whose focus should be to "KEEP AND MAINTAIN THE PEACE."  Instead, psychological and emotional pressures and group think in a police culture of "being manly and not caving to womanish emotion," has made once human individuals into brutes who shoot first then cover up their liabilities afterward.

This must stop. The innocents killed are martyred and become saints mourned by families. The police who "get away with killing" are in the horror of an emotional abyss of brutality for the rest of their lives, WHETHER THEY ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT. The PTSD which is supposed to remain hidden so they are not "sissies," goes left untreated and the possibility is that they may kill again.

Governments must acknowledge this great, silent destroyer that is a product of the stresses of being law enforcement. They must do this by instituting programs that deal with proper training, and psychological protocols to deal with on the job psychic damage. The protocols should be ones that heal officers and return them to human feeling and empathy. The "US" vs. "THEM" attitudes must be debunked for what they are, fear tactics to pump up the adrenalin which ultimately are damaging. We are all human. Police officers are sensitive, feeling people (regardless of the fear of appearing like sissies...they must acknowledge their emotions), above all peace officers. If these issues are not addressed, more of the same will occur. And the individuals in law enforcement above all will be internally impaired for their lives on this earth and perhaps forever.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ability Thinking! A Wake Up Call for the Abled/Disabled. (Which is Which?)

The competitive drive of a vibrant human spirit.

Many individuals with disabilities enjoy active productive lives and in many instances are more vital, determined and ambitious than their abled counterparts. There is no one more "crippled" than a soul that has been damaged for life and will never recover, regardless of the individual's "perfect physical mobility," amount of money, friends, and apparent privileges he or she may enjoy.

Suicide rates of physically "perfect" individuals exist and it is impossible to look back or even begin to fathom what happens in the hearts and minds of those who cannot get out from under themselves when to examine their backgrounds, we might assume that their complaints are miniscule by comparison to those "disabled" who have been given what the "abled" might deem a rough load to carry. It's all in the soul and the mind of the individual. And there for the grace of God go any of us... each his or her own.  You pick the saying you prefer. To misread the true nature of human existence with superficial assumptions that status, money and physical perfection belies soul pain and offsets mental ill health/psychosis should be beyond all of us by now.

That is why when one considers that the essential health of a nation is indicated by how politicians, elites and the powerful "abled" consider the equity of those who are "less abled," then one must conclude that our country is not only horrifically twisted, but is suffering from its own genocidal tendencies. I've come to this conclusion after viewing the government statistics on employment and the disability population. And upon reflection after undergoing familial experiences, I've also come to the conclusion that Congress and the Senate must expand the use of community-based services, demedicalize services and expand consumer directed service options for the disabled, including disabled seniors. Choice must be guaranteed for those whose disabilities require they need long term services. Even though under Obamacare there is a First Choice Option to place individuals in the community, because of lack of knowledge, or advocates to help an individual to find a suitable independent living arrangement, this may take years.

Nursing homes and assisted living centers are less costly if isolated from the community.
Frankly, it irks me to no end that a governing elite and paternalistic leadership refuses or is blind to recognizing what true "ability" is. Clue: it is not physical or material. Unless, we receive a wake up call, we will all suffer in the long run. And the "disability" community and the senior community, including a "young-thinking" AARP membership must really clamor and push hard about employment opportunities and an excellent affordable selection of independent living choices. They are the ones with the intelligence, attitude and determination to get things done, having already accomplished through organization and mobilization. Check out how ADAPT has strengthened the voice and power of the disability community.

First, politicians, leaders, employers must recognize and take into account current statistics on the disabled population. (Some have the vision like Senator Tom Harkin...many do not.) The disability community's numbers will continue to increase as permanently injured vets return home and as an aging population can only resist decreased mobility and modality loss for so long. Of course, that is not taking into account other types of injuries not incurred by war or aging that create disability conditions. The President's State of the Union message was a step in the right direction for the disability community. He must not backpedal on what has been promised.

Photo by Evan Schneider: UN 2012 Advancing Disabled Rts.

Employment Statistics

Statistics in 2012 for those 18-64 living in the community having disabilities show that 32.7% were employed. For the same age group living in the community who did not have disabilities, 73.6% were employed. For those without disabilities living in the community, 40.8% more were employed.  Percentages for those seniors (past 64)  still employed because they couldn't afford to retire were not given, nor were the seniors (past 64) with disabilities. Clearly, we cannot even make any assumptions or conclusions, except that most probably those seniors with disabilities will have a much, much lower employment percentage. These are numbers under the radar, as are those who are undocumented workers.

In 2012, of the 7,142,749 individuals with independent living disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community, 1,102,254 individuals were employed—an employment rate of 15.4 percent.
The employment rate for people with independent living disabilities was highest in Minnesota (27.7 percent) and lowest in Mississippi (10.1 percent).
What is Minnesota doing that we should look at?

AAPD website. Senator Tom Harkin and others via AAPD
 What the figures do not reveal are those with disabilities who might be ABLE TO WORK, if given the opportunity, but who cannot get out of nursing homes or other institutions because they need long term care and because they 1)lack resources-wheelchairs, vans outfitted for accessibility; 2)lack knowledge of how to negotiate the system to get free and live in the community; 3)lack a liaison or advocate to help them become free and help them with getting a job; 4) have mental depression and hopelessness to not even want to try 5) have the belief encouraged by the facility (that values money over the person's needs/desires) that they will be in the nursing home forever.

The current practice when resources are not available is to keep individuals (young and old) in nursing homes and institutions. If there are not enough resources to keep those independently living in the community after Spinal Cord Injury (SPI), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) accidents and other injuries that curtail possibilities for independent living...nursing homes are the current solution. Institutionalization is no real solution. More help is needed to free those from institutions, especially the young whose lives are ahead of them. Even the old (without dementia or Alzheimer's) who are shuffled to institutions for no other reason except someone wants to get rid of them should be allowed a choice.

Regarding both examples, a community setting and independent living arrangement is an option that must be continually created and encouraged. To NOT do so is a waste of intelligence and the preciousness of a human soul. In both instances it is disallowing an opportunity for each to give back and in the case of the young it is cutting off the possibility of their contributing their efforts (taxes, etc.) to the work force. It is also incredibly costly and in the long run will destroy the healthcare system while enriching the government's outsourced nursing home facilities and institutions (kind of like what it has been doing with the prison system).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Hot Wheelchair on the Long Island Railroad

A few weeks ago I took the LI railroad into New York. There was a young gentleman on the train platform waiting for the 6:01 pm. The polar vortex hadn't arrived yet, so there were no clouds flying in with snow dustings or blizzards. But it was still cold and the young man was bundled well with coat and cap. He scrunched into his wheelchair feeding warmth to its frame and taking it back as he hunched over his gaming or texting, or Tweeting, deep into it. What drew me to him were those wheels and that chair! OMG. It was hot, metallic-looking, one of those dark reddish colors. It was high powered with gadgets galore and whippet mobility. I knew he could lean back and do wheelies Vrummming on the straight and wide on a sunny, hot day. I was impressed! That chair was beautiful.

We both got on the train. I positioned myself near him in the car's jump seat as he zipped in, unassisted, ready to rock and roll and answer texts. I saw that's what he was doing. I had to grab his attention during this transfer. Better now than interrupt him when he was texting some honeys.

"Hey, really like your chair." Nodded my head and smiled. "It's cool. Looks like you can make some real speed with it."

My words produced a huge sparkling white grin. "Well, thank you. I manage pretty well with it."

I talked about my cousin who needed a wheelchair because of her arthritis but was too proud and  stubborn to have one. I told him if she saw his, she'd love it and maybe she'd feel better about herself having to use a wheelchair. 

My cousin popped the cork. He poured out some personal details. He hadn't always been in a wheelchair. He said his story was "something." He said it took him a long while to adapt to what happened. He said he was depressed and really down after the reality that he couldn't walk hit him. But then, "things changed."

"Faith really helps you get over those hellish times," I added, nodding my head, inside feeling a bit cautious. I didn't know if I was being lame talking to an atheist. But I ventured 'cause I've learned there are no atheists in wheelchairs. Like there are no atheists in war zone ditches under drone fire. And this applied to him at least on one count. Maybe two.

He assured me he had a lot of faith. That got him through the situation he had been in. I was sooo curious and I listened so intently my forehead must have been crinkled up with my eyes more rounded and larger than their usual smallish shape. I guess my eyes are like beacons signaling the talker. "Go on. I really wanna know what happened."

He said that he relied on God and always prayed. His faith and his family's prayers helped him get out of the grovel he had been in. 

The kid in me popped up and moved my tongue for a question that was personal and way over the line. Somehow I managed to shut up.

He had been in a nursing home for a long while, three years. He didn't go out. He didn't want to go out after a while. 'Cause it was like a prison. And you get institutionalized. There were a lot of guys in there with him who were really down. It was pretty awful. When things changed, he was able to leave and go home. And now he was going to school and playing wheelchair sports and tooling around visiting friends and taking the LIRR and talking to me.

I told him I was a journalist and writer. I wrote articles some about vets and I was concerned the government wasn't doing enough for them. I told him I did what I could to petition all sorts of causes and one of the companies I advocated/wrote for gave people with disabilities their lives back with adaptive vehicles. 

He said he used to drive, loved it, missed it. He was really interested in independence. Driving gave him that and he had renewed his license though he had been held captive in a nursing home. He said he'd love to get behind the wheel.
I told him what everyone knows, how SUVs and cars can be completely transformed for Quads or Paras or people like my cousin: whomever for whatever reason. Now you can match wheels with your wheelchairs. Today, folks can travel as far as they want to wherever. The technology is so advanced, people are only limited by their minds.

He said the guys he had left back in the nursing homes wouldn't go out...were depressed; some wanted to die, thought their lives were over. That's why he'd go back and talk to them, help out, encourage.

We exchanged information. And I told him something maybe I shouldn't have. I told him I'd like to interview him. Have him tell me his story. My readers would be interested to know.

The train had arrived at Penn Station. I shook his hand and we said goodbye. I watched as the conductor (they're called that on the LIRR) walked him off the train. He was taking him to an elevator.

Thinking back to my comment about the interview, I realize those are pretty tight words. Everyone's life is private. Sometimes, you need to just move on and not discuss things. I did learn later what happened.  He was out with friends. Some guys saw his jewelry and he was robbed. And he was shot. The bullet left him a C 4-5 Quad. 

Though he hasn't gotten in touch with me, I always will remember JF. That day I met him was his birthday. I thought the interview might be a sort of present.  But upon reflection, I see it is the reverse. I think he is God's present to me and to the world.