Stories of 'Women and War' on stage at Chiawana

Dori O'Neal, Herald staff writerNovember 9, 2012 

Playwright Jack Cunningham of Brooklyn, N.Y., watched a TV documentary a few years ago about military nurses who served during the Vietnam War.

Their stories inspired him to write a play titled Women and War, which will be performed starting Nov. 9 by the drama students at Chiawana High School in Pasco.

"The stories of those nurses who were interviewed grabbed me emotionally, and I thought, 'Gee, there is a play here,' " Cunningham told the Herald via email. "So I began working on the idea of a play about the experiences women had serving as nurses in the armed forces."

The play is a collection of fictional stories based on historical fact, said Todd Westendorf, director and drama teacher at Chiawana.

"Women and War is deeply touching and educational, and it has been an emotional roller coaster from start to finish," Westendorf said. "The characters' accounts are moving, funny, humbling and incredibly sad all at the same time. Jack Cunningham is a word magician, delivering the internal voices of multiple generations of women who've served as wives, nurses, sweethearts and officers from World War I to Afghanistan."

Cunningham's first draft of Women and War was in 2006. He gave the play to Peter Zinn, a friend and director for Retro Productions in New York City, to read. Zinn liked it and decided to produce it at the Bleecker Street Theatre in the NoHo section of Manhattan, Cunningham said.

"It was a bit heavy, much too long and employed too many actors," Cunningham said. "Peter encouraged me to cut some of the monologues, pare down those remaining and shuffle the entire script like a deck of cards."

Zinn was right, and after Cunningham reorganized his script, it began to work theatrically, he said. Once he had the play published, he discovered something important.

"Audience reactions to Women and War suggested it was important material for young audiences," Cunningham said. "Though a history lesson of sorts, my play lends itself to productions for all ages. My play has had four productions throughout the U.S., and currently one (is in production) in Texas and the one at Chiawana High School."

Westendorf said Women and War has been much more than an adventure in drama for his cast and crew.

"It's been a life-changing, moving and poignant scrapbook of the American war experience," Westendorf said. "And we dedicate this production to the many wives, mothers, daughters and soldiers they have loved, do love or will love someday."

Curtain time is 7 p.m. in the black box theater at Chiawana High School, 8125 Argent Road in Pasco. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $6 for students, seniors and members of the military. Tickets are available at the door.

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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