by Jacqueline E. Lawton, Playwrights’ Arena Playwright
Continuing our series following the six members of our inaugural Playwrights’ Arena playwriting group in the lead up to their Kogod Cradle Series this March 6-9, playwright Jacqueline Lawton shares some insight about her play, Noms de Guerre (Names of War).
Noms de Guerre is a play about war … about the cost of war, the price of freedom.
I come from a family of soldiers. My grandfather was in the Army and served in the Korean War. My mother and father were also in the Army and served during the Vietnam War. My brother served sixteen years in the United States Air Force. My sister has worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs for five years.
Noms de Guerre is a play about war … about honor and glory, pain and sacrifice.
Originally, this was meant to be a play about the War on Women and our ever-changing role in society. I wanted to write about a conservative Black woman whose political decisions hindered women’s reproductive rights. Ultimately, I write to make sense of the world. In the wake of what’s been happening to women around the world and in America, I wanted to understand what could possibly drive a woman, a politician, to do this to other women. The play was to follow the evolution of a friendship between two women, Mira and Jude. Over the course of seventeen years, we would have seen certain events play out in their lives that addressed these larger issues. But despite many valiant attempts and wonderful conversations with my smart, talented and fearless fellow playwrights at Playwrights’ Arena, I found that I couldn’t write that play. Instead, this other story, this story of war … about how a broken soldier returns home and disrupts the lives of his wife and her best friend, needed to be the driving force. So, after speaking with Arena Stage’s brilliant, discerning and passionate dramaturg Jocelyn Clark, I set forth to tell this story. And in the most haunting, exquisite, and terrifying way, these other issues have come through, but now on more personal and deeply intimate levels.
Noms de Guerre is a play about war … about its necessity and its waste, about the impact of war on returning veterans and their families.
The first man I ever loved played the French horn, graduated from high school a year early, joined the Army, survived boot camp, and killed himself two days after my birthday, one week after holding me in his arms for the last time. The second man I loved left me to join the Marines, married someone else, had two children, did two tours in Iraq, and then returned to me for a year and half before parting again … this time to Afghanistan and to a woman more suited for military life. The third man I loved was born into a civil war that lasted on and off for the first thirteen years of his life. He longs to return to his home country, but cannot owing to its continued state of uncertainty. Each time Lebanon appears in the news, I write to him and ask after his family.
Noms de Guerre is a play about war … about broken rules of engagement and the lengths the government will go to stay on mission.
When I first spoke about the play to my father, he told me about a flashback he had experienced more than thirty years ago. It was the middle of the night. He found himself suddenly on the front porch with a gun in his hand. He asked me if I remembered this. I told him that I didn’t. I was probably four at the time and fast asleep. He then told me that the only thing that saved him was talking to his father about all that he had seen and done for his country.
Noms de Guerre is a play about war … about heroic deeds, acts of horror, and the strength and courage it takes to speak truth to power.
I’ve dedicated this play to my father.
(Photo by Jason Hornick.)