War of words: Greek tragedy and talk in Crown Heights • Brooklyn Paper

War of words: Greek tragedy and talk in Crown Heights

Modern translation: Bryan Doerries, director of the “Theater of War” series, has adapted the Greek tragedy “Ajax” for an upcoming discussion of violence and mental health.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

They’re talking war and peace.

A Brooklyn writer and director will use an ancient Greek tragedy read by a celebrity cast to launch a tough community talk in Crown Heights next week. His production “Ajax” will play at the Crown Heights Library on April 6 as part of the “Theater of War” series of performances and discussions produced with the Brooklyn Public Library. The 2,500-year-old Sophocles play is the perfect way to kick off a discussion of urban violence and mental health, said the show’s creator.

“The play speaks universally to the experiences of violence and trauma and shame,” said Bryan Doerries, who also translated the play. “The glue that brings everyone together is this universal set of questions that are at the heart of these ancient stories, themes that transcends time and culture.”

“Ajax,” written around 440 BC, tells the story of a warrior who is overcome with depression after losing his best friend Achilles, and who kills himself after being betrayed by his commanders.

The three-person cast for the event includes Oscar-nominee Amy Ryan, of the films “Birdman” and “Gone Baby Gone,” Reg E. Cathey, from television shows “The Wire” and “House of Cards,” and Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush), a driving force against gun violence. The local pol also happens to be a star on stage, said Doerries.

“He turned out to be a terrific actor beyond our expectations,” said Doerries, who was recently named New York City’s Public Artist in Residence.

The free Crown Heights presentation is targeted towards veterans of war and survivors of urban violence — two different groups of people who share similar stories of struggle, survival, and pain, said Doerries. After the reading, four neighborhood figures will hop on stage to share their immediate, un-rehearsed reactions to the play, and to engage the community in a powerful talk about gun violence and mental health care, he said.

“Their job is to respond in the moment and to model for the audience a kind of radical candor — we don’t want them coming studying the plays or think about what they are going to say,” said Doerries. “The best panels are ones who can’t find their words, but who are emotionally present.”

During its 10 years of productions, the Theater of War has worked with many famous thespians, including Adam Driver, Paul Giamatti, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Actors have jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the project because it gives them a chance to do good in their communities, said Doerries.

“I was able to get well-known actors who are very talented, very accomplished very early on because it’s extremely rare in their profession to feel like they are doing something, making a difference with their craft, to feel like you are moving the needle socially and affecting change,” said Doerries.

“Theater of War” at the Crown Heights Public Library [560 New York Ave. between Lincoln Road and Maple Street in Crown Heights, (718) 230–2200, ajaxincrownheights.brownpapertickets.com]. April 6 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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