“Wounded” takes the toll of war-damaged lives

War, like a plague, never strikes just one person — it damages everyone around them.

We’re learning this anew in our generation, as veterans come home from America’s adventures in the Middle East. Some have lasting physical injuries, and all carry inner wounds that earlier generations knew as “battle fatigue” and “shell shock.”

We call these inner  wounds PTSD, “post-traumatic stress disorder.” This recognizes that men and women who live through a war have undergone shocks and stresses so severe that human beings can  barely withstand them. And it acknowledges that surviving may have cost large chunks of sanity, including the ability to “come home” — to ever feel safe or normal again.

Kyle Felts, Scott Kuza (photo: Kerry Kaz)

Wounded, by Kerry Kaz, takes an up-close look at these and other “collateral damages.” All three of the play’s characters have had their lives violently reshaped; each is struggling to make some kind of progress into what’s left.

Thomas, his brain torn by shrapnel, has come home as “Tommy.” Unable to register most of what’s going on around him, to speak, or to walk or sit or stand (or use the toilet) without assistance, Tommy is a one-year old in a man’s broken body.

Angelica, Thomas’ wife, has become Tommy’s full-time caregiver.
In the explosive shock of his return, she has quit her architecture studies and lost their unborn baby. Now, after a homebound year, she’s asking for some help.

Enter Sam, a regular at the vets’ clinic who’s in love with Angelica
(a backstory we never get). He’s eager to help care for Tommy, and quickly learns the routines. Angelica is eager, too, and all goes well. Sam and Tommy bond, she’s taking a “catch-up” seminar … and then an IED goes off. Tommy tries to walk one day and falls, his loud yells trigger Sam’s PTSD, and the trio’s budding “home” is shattered.

Where their story goes, I’ll let you find out. I want to note that not just these three, but everyone in their world has suffered the costs of war. The baby has died; Tommy’s distraught parents cannot bear to contact him; and Angelica’s mother has all but disowned her. Sam, it turns out, has lost a wife and baby in the aftermath of his return. We never meet these people, but in them Kaz makes it quietly clear  — war knows no boundaries, and no one escapes unharmed.

Wounded is not, however, an anti-war play. It is a quiet, respectful examination of three intersecting lives. Indeed, respect — and love — for his characters is one of Kaz’s strengths as a playwright. He also has a good ear for how people use the same language differently, and how we often expect another to catch what we don’t (or can’t) say — yet may be surprised, even offended, when they do.

The performances of Kaz’s script are uniformly strong and real, filled with subtext and the subtle gestures that intimate theatre allows.  Kyle Felts, as Sam, gives us a big man dancing among eggshells, meaning well and often doing well but afraid of the rage — and vulnerability — that get unleashed when he’s triggered. Scott Kuza’s Tommy floats  uncomprehendingly in a narrow world, at times afraid, at times frustrated; the actor makes his every sound and movement carry meaning, even if we aren’t sure what it is. And as Angelica, Jesse Holder Tourtellotte takes us on a tortuous ride through conflicting emotions, conscious and unconscious, in a world she never bargained for yet into which she keeps falling deeper and deeper. We may hold our breath at some of her choices, but we’re never tempted to withhold our empathy. Director Liz Lanier holds a steady pace amid the ups and downs, fasts and slows, and keeps our focus on what’s important.

Wounded takes a close look at a morass into which more and more Americans are falling (as is nearly everyone in the countries our wars are ravaging). It proposes no solutions, and lays no blame; it doesn’t even offer a resolution to comfort anyone. But, alas, that’s where we are.
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Wounded, by Kerry Kaz, directed by Liz Lanier.
Presented by Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm and Fierce Backbone, at The Lounge Theatres, 6201 W. Santa Monica Blvd., LA 90038.

June 8 (Friday) at 7:45,
June 11 (Monday) at 9:45,
June 17 (Sunday) at 7:45,
June 23 (Saturday) at 3:45.

Tickets:  <hff18.org/projects/5189>