LOS ANGELES - The house lights go down and
the stage lights come up on The Wolf, the
first production of VetStage, a non-profit theater
company run by veterans of the US-led wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan. It opens with a funeral: a Roman
Catholic priest preparing to deliver a eulogy for
a US soldier killed by a roadside bomb.
Quickly, the scene changes and we're
transported to a group therapy session under way
at military mental institution. It's here
we meet our two main characters. Both are members
of the US Marine Corps facing court martial. The
first, a female soldier accused of killing a
fellow marine after he raped her. The second, for
massacring an entire Iraqi family in their home.
The therapy session does not go well.
"A lot of f---ed-up shit happened in
combat, that's what I think, Supershrink," a third
solider in the therapy session tells the military
psychiatrist. "You know what, I'm tired, so why
don't we move on?"
The play's author, lead
actor, and founder of VetStage is Sean Huze. He
signed up for the marines on September 12, 2001 -
the day after the terrorist attacks in New York
and near Washington, DC - and took part in the
initial invasion and occupation of Iraq in March
The Louisiana native had already
worked as an actor playing bit parts in
commercials and television shows before enlisting.
Immediately after he returned, he wrote a play
called The Sand Storm, a series of 10
monologues describing the Iraq war from the
soldiers' perspective. Huze said that play helped
him work through psychological issues he had
returning to the United States after serving in
Then, in Los Angeles, he founded
VetStage, which seeks to present "one of the best
opportunities for our nation's veterans to define
their experience and how it is perceived by the
public. In addition to that, it provides a
positive, creative outlet for veterans to process
their personal experience, enable them to make an
artistic contribution to society and ease the
transition back into civilian life," states its
The Wolf is VetStage's
first production, and is in association with the
organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of
Huze said he was drawn to write
The Wolf when he saw how the US government
and the media reacted to a Marine Corps massacre
of 24 Iraqis civilians at Haditha in November
"Some lance-corporal is going to do
10 years in the brig or longer and, in the
meantime, the people who train marines to do it,
that condition marines to do this, basically get
off," he said. "They hang the individuals out to
dry when really they're doing what they're trained
and conditioned to do. That's why I took this kind
of route with this play."
Near the end of
the first act, the two soldiers break out of the
mental institution, but they can't lie low -
violence seems to follow them wherever they go.
This is how the play's main character
describes the massacre he perpetrated to his local
priest: "They were sheep," he says, "and I am a
wolf and I did what wolves do, and that's what I
told 'em, and that's why they keep me locked up."
"And what about now - you're still a
wolf?" the priest asks.
"You can't turn
someone from a sheep into a wolf and then back
again, so where does that leave me now?"
Karl Risinger is a member of the VetStage
company and a US Army veteran who trained soldiers
before their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I like the production," he said. "I think
it's a story that needs to be told. [Veterans]
have been programmed and trained and they're
soldiers, and suddenly they get out of the
military and they're home to normal life and they
don't have to go through the normal regimens they
have to go through in the military.
"They're dealing with the stuff they've
done during their military careers," he said.
"Nobody really knows how to de-program a soldier."
The Wolf is a decidedly anti-war
play, focusing not only on the conditions soldiers
face after they come home, but attacking the
George W Bush administration's reasons for
attacking Iraq. Still, Huze said, the theater
company isn't only for veterans who think the war
"There are veterans who are part
of VetStage who are conservatives who voted for
Bush twice," he said, noting that the organization
also offers acting and play-writing classes
designed to help veterans improve their skills and
integrate better back into US society.
"Certainly for me, even though those
aren't viewpoints that I hold, if they're vets who
are involved in this who still have issues they
want to work through and [we] help them with
writing, [and] they're able to do something
artistically, it helps them to transition back to
being a civilian or a citizen.
care if they're military," he said, "and if they
are, I want to help 'em out."