Theater of War Visits the USS George Washington

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On May 22nd, the USS George Washington hosted four performances of Rum and Vodka in hangar bay 2, becoming the first ship to host a Theater of War performance. Tony-award winning actor Brían O’Byrne (who is slated to appear in the upcoming season two of Mercy Street on PBS) and film director Bryan Doerries flew out to the ship currently underway for the performance.

Rum and Vodka is an innovative Alcohol and Substance Abuse Awareness/Prevention Training that presents dramatic readings of Conor McPherson’s one-man play Rum and Vodka as a catalyst for facilitated panel and town hall discussions about alcoholism, substance abuse, and addiction as they affect service members, units, caregivers, families, and communities.

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The play tells the story of a 24-year-old man living in Dublin, whose life is falling apart, in large part due to his drinking. But drinking, he believes, is the only way he can cope with this shame, anger, and an overwhelming feeling of being trapped in a life he did not choose for himself. The story follows the young man on a three-day bender, during which time he loses his job, cheats on his wife, and nearly destroys his family.

Brían O’Byrne was impressed with his Navy experience. He said, “It was incredible to be given the opportunity to visit a working aircraft carrier at sea and watch the community engage with the discussion and, in turn, support each other. Their honesty as a community was refreshing to hear.”

 Over the past few years, Outside the Wire has presented Rum and Vodka more than 35 times for Army, Navy, and Marine Corps audiences. The project premiered on September 15, 2011 for an audience of clinicians and military leaders at the DOD/VA Joint Behavioral Health/Mental Health Services Conference in Alexandria, VA. It was then performed for veterans, caregivers, and clinicians at Coatesville VA Medical Center. It has also been presented at Walter Reed National Military Center, MCB Quantico, MCB Camp Pendleton, the University of Kentucky, Weill Medical College: Qatar, and for Third Army audiences in Kuwait and Qatar. The project also toured U.S. Marine Corps installations in CONUS and the Pacific.

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Bryan Doerries believes the program is extremely effective: “The Rum and Vodka performances that we presented on the USS George Washington last Sunday exceeded all expectations. Thousands of sailors showed up for the shows, which took place in a giant hangar bay, while jets landed, every few minutes, on the deck above us. The power, candor, and courage shown by those who spoke in the discussions that followed each performance was humbling and powerful. It’s exciting and extremely gratifying for us to help play a role in initiating culture change within the Navy with regard to drinking and alcohol abuse, and we hope to be able to bring the project to more military audiences—across the services—in the months and years ahead.”

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Outside the Wire’s Theater of War program is best known for its presentation of the Sophocles plays Ajax and Philoctetes, believing that themes from ancient Greek tragedy can resonate with modern warriors.

Conor McPherson’s Rum and Vodka demonstrated itself to be an excellent catalyst for open discussion about alcoholism, substance abuse, and addiction. By presenting the story of a 24-year-old man living in Dublin, surrounded on all sides by Irish drinking culture, the play creates a non-threatening space for audience members to speak openly about the culture of drinking and substance abuse in their communities today.