Award-winning actor Brian Dennehy will host Westport Country Playhouse’s presentation of “Letters Home,” a dramatic production of actual letters written by U.S. troops serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Veteran’s Day, Wednesday, November 11. Produced by the Griffin Theatre Company of Chicago, the initial production last winter was critically acclaimed and nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for “Outstanding New Play.”
In conjunction with “Letters Home,” the Westport Arts Center (WAC) will install an exhibition in the Playhouse lobby, “Daily Exchanges: U.S. Soldiers in Iraq - The Ordinary in Images.” Curated by WAC's Director of Visual Arts Terri C. Smith, with the guidance and input of artist and "Operation Enduring Freedom" veteran Paul Kaiser, "Daily Exchanges" will feature photographs and videos depicting the everyday lives of troops serving in war.
A reception and guided tour of the art exhibit will begin at 6 p.m., followed by the performance of “Letters Home” at 7 p.m. A panel discussion will follow the play at approximately 9 p.m., moderated by Lisa Chedekel, an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 20 years experience writing for Connecticut newspapers. After the discussion, Smith and Kaiser will be available for comment on the exhibition.
“The Playhouse is pleased to present ‘Letters Home’ as a powerful reminder around Veteran’s Day of the hard work and sacrifices of our nation’s servicemembers. We are delighted to work with the Westport Arts Center to create an immersive experience in the portrayal of our troops in both drama and the visual arts,” said Angela Marroy Boerger, the Playhouse’s Education and Community Programs Coordinator.
“Letters Home” paints a powerful portrait of servicemembers’ experience in the ongoing war, and, without politicizing, gives voice to the people who are still fighting and dying far away from home. The production is inspired by the New York Times Op-Ed article, “The Things They Wrote,” and the subsequent HBO documentary, “Last Letters Home,” and additionally uses letters and correspondences from Frank Schaeffer’s books, “Voices from the Front: Letters Home from America’s Military Family,” “Faith of Our Sons” and “Keeping Faith.”
The art exhibition, “Daily Exchanges: U.S. Soldiers in Iraq - The Ordinary in Images,” is in dialogue with the Westport Country Playhouse’s “Letters Home” performance and includes artist interpretations of the daily lives of U.S. soldiers in Iraq – as well as projects relating to their loved ones at home. The exhibition will also feature photographs, videos and emails from soldiers themselves. Direct documents and artworks are exhibited in tandem to provide a variety of viewpoints. By emphasizing the quotidian – the everyday routines, environments and stories of U.S. soldiers – the hope is to avoid “newsworthy” portrayals of a soldier’s life in a deliberate attempt to circumvent stereotypes of troops and war. In addition to Wednesday afternoon and evening, the art exhibition will be on display Thursday, November 12, 1 to 6 p.m. and Friday, November 13, 12 to 6 p.m.
Brian Dennehy, host and panelist, has maintained a strong presence in film, theater and television for three decades. He has twice won the Tony Award for Best Actor: honored for playing James Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's “Long Day's Journey Into Night,” and for playing Willy Loman in “Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.” The latter production was also filmed for Showtime which subsequently earned Dennehy a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Emmy Award nomination. He revived the role of Willy Loman in London's West End for which he received the coveted Olivier Award for Best Actor. Dennehy is well-known to audiences worldwide for his performances in many popular films and a wide range of television projects.
Lisa Chedekel, panel moderator, is a former staff writer for The Hartford Courant, where she won a number of national awards, including a 1999 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news which she shared with a team of reporters. As a member of The Courant’s investigative team, she co-authored a series of stories in 2006 on soldiers’ mental health that led to sweeping reforms in the military’s system of screening and treating troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The series was a finalist for the Pulitzer in investigative reporting in 2007 and won a George Polk Award for military reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize, and the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting. Chedekel previously covered the state Capitol, education and immigration for The Courant, and was a reporter and columnist for the New Haven Register. She now writes for publications in the Boston area.
The Playhouse’s presentation of “Letters Home” is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and Pitney Bowes. Tickets are $15 for the general public and $10 for veterans.
For more information or tickets to “Letters Home,” call the Westport Country Playhouse box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit the box office at 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport, or www.westportplayhouse.org. For more information about the exhibition, call the Westport Arts Center at (203) 222-7070 or visit www.westportartscenter.org.