There’s no denying the connection between art and healing.
There’s no denying the connection between art and healing. Bryan Doerries, author of The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today, knows this all too well. Having lost a girlfriend to cystic fibrosis and his father to diabetes, Doerries found solace in the works of the Greeks in the way that some might find solace in the music of Bob Dylan or the poetry of Yehuda Amichai.
Maybe one of the most profound (and admirable) connections Doerries made was the healing power that theater could have for war veterans. He founded the group Theater of War, seeking to heal the “visible and invisible wounds of war” through dramatic readings of works by the ancient Greeks; the readings involve service members and their families, followed by discussions of the material. Embarking on such journeys, those that probe at dark places we want to protect ourselves from, can no doubt be frightening. By all accounts, Doerries, through his own grief, serves as a capable and empathetic guide.
He’s especially fond of Sophocles’ Ajax, in which a soldier, whose spirit is depleted by battle and all that it brings, commits suicide. The plot alone sounds painfully familiar, and that is perhaps why he’s had such success convincing the military to bring the drama to bases worldwide. He has presented works to corrections workers, medical professionals, communities living in the wake of disaster as well as educators and students alike.
One might argue that everyone becomes a student in this process, a student not only of the power of art but the works themselves which are, by some standards, obscure. The words that he uses in his translations (included in the book itself) are less so. He masterfully adapts the language in a fashion that allows the participants to engage on a level that makes these works not just relevant but new.
We can travel alongside Doerries in this process of discovery, not just for himself but for those to whom he has presented his works, with clarity and ease. His ability to translate into words that become relevant to today’s audiences is matched only by his ability to write clear, concise prose for readers who want to probe the process more deeply and raise their own questions about how to move forward.
Though the book will no doubt inspire many readers, it is not a soppy affair like too many of these narratives devolve into. Instead, Doerries remains a steady, calming voice whose own experience reminds us that there are ways out of the darkness. Perhaps his abilities as a translator/interpreter of these classical works will inspire new versions for students and others to engage with, especially when the themes seem increasingly relevant.
The real power of this book, though, comes in the reflections it will inspire among those who open its cover and discover the wisdom of its pages. For those who require it for deeper purposes? One only hopes that they can find more relief than entertainment from this capable and impressive work.