Old Deerfield Productions presents ‘Johnny Got His Gun’
New York City actor Nico Lawson, who grew up in Montague, will star in Old Deerfield Production's production of "Johnny Got His Gun" May 11 in Hadley.
Lisa and Bob Woodruff will be on a panel that will discuss issues of war, following the performance of "Johnny Got His Gun." Bob Woodruff is a former ABC World News Tonight anchor who was wounded while reporting on the Iraq war. Lisa Woodruff is a CBS Morning Show correspondent and author.
The reverberations of war affect soldiers, families, communities and entire nations, no matter what country, or in what decade the war occurs. Left in its wake, often, are difficult questions about how to heal, to help others and to rebuild.
Addressing those questions is the theme of a performance by Old Deerfield Productions that will take place Saturday at the Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley.
“Johnny Got His Gun” is a staged version of a 1940 radio adaptation of Dalton Trumbo’s 1938 anti-war novel — a raw and controversial book that focuses on the experiences of Joe Bonham, a young soldier serving in World War I, who awakens in the hospital after being injured by an artillery shell. He has lost his arms, his legs and his face, but his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner trapped in his broken body.
The play is being presented as a way to create a community conversation about the struggles of all wars, for all veterans, says Old Deerfield Productions’ artistic director, Linda McInerney. The cast includes New York City actor Nico Lawson, who grew up in Montague, James Cameron Emery, Emma Jimerson and Joan Holiday, all of Northampton, and A.J. Maroney of Shelburne Falls.
The performance will be followed by a discussion with a panel that will confront war-related issues.
On the panel are a Vietnam War veteran, an attorney for a Guantanamo Bay detainee and the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq, among others.
“Johnny Got His Gun is just an amazing story,” said the play’s director, Kevin Maroney, in a phone interview last week. “It’s very contemporary in a lot of ways, though it was written 70-plus years ago.”
Trumbo, an author and screenwriter, was blacklisted in Hollywood for suspected communist affiliations. Still, Trumbo continued to write, often addressing topics that otherwise might have remained unexamined. “Johnny Got His Gun” won a National Book Award in 1939 for Most Original Book.
“It has very much to do with how he had the nerve to write what others might have been thinking,” Maroney said, adding that there are similarities between today’s world, with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Trumbo’s, with the two world wars.
Organizers at Old Deerfield Productions chose to perform “Johnny Got His Gun” to continue the conversation, as Trumbo did, about the difficult subject of war.
“It’s tough to listen to, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” Maroney said.
Maroney proposed the play to the Old Deerfield Productions board of directors last year. McInerney had seen the play in New York years ago and says she was excited to take it on. Though it takes place during World War I, McInerney says, there are relevant and controversial themes in the play that are worth presenting to the community. McInerney says she strives in each of the shows at Old Deerfield Productions to create experiences that engage and educate audiences.
“Johnny Got His Gun” will pose important questions, she said, including: “How can we have a deep impact on our community? How can we raise the discourse? How can we come together as people? How can art help us to do that.”
McInerney says she recognizes that there are differing opinions about war, but hopes the audience will put controversy aside, and discover how they can help members of the military and veterans.
“There’s going to be really lefty people in that audience and there’s going to be vets in the audience, but because we have this common goal, there will be nothing to disagree about,” McInerney said. “It is my intention to keep it in a healing mode.”
The panel that will lead the discussion following the play includes Bob Woodruff, a former ABC World News Tonight anchor who was wounded while reporting on the Iraq war. Woodruff, will discuss the changing landscape of modern warfare and his experience as an imbedded journalist.
Buz Eisenberg, an attorney for Guantanamo Bay detainees, will talk about the citizens and people affected in a war zone, those that he said, “never volunteered to fight.” Vietnam War veteran Lieutenant Colonel Hank Detering will discuss veterans’ needs.
Also participating is David Pakman, a local progressive radio and TV program host, and Woodruff’s wife, Lee Woodruff, a CBS Morning Show correspondent, with whom he co-authored The New York Times best seller “In an Instant.” The final two panelists are Kathy Belanger of Deerfield, mother of Greg Belanger, a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, and the Reverend Andrea Ayvazian, a pastor at the Haydenville Congregational Church, who has been active in political and social movements since the 1970s.
Together they will facilitate discussion that McInerney hopes will transform the emotionally intense play into a positive and hopeful experience.
“I just had this great feeling that it would be so powerful for the audience,” McInerney said.
“Johnny Got His Gun” will be presented Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Wesley Methodist Church, 98 North Maple St. in Hadley.
Tickets cost $12 and $10, with $20 seating up front. To reserve, visit www.olddeerfieldproductions.org.
Tickets are free for military veterans via the Veterans Ticket Foundation at www.vettix.org. Veterans are asked to email McInerney at firstname.lastname@example.org.