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‘The Draft’ brings Vietnam War-era experiences to the stage

Listen to the stories of 10 people about their relationships with the Vietnam War — told through the voices of 10 local actors. Their experiences have been compiled in a new documentary play, “The Draft,” based on a book by Thomas Weiner of Northampton: “Called to Serve: Stories of Men and Women Confronted by the Vietnam War Draft” (Levellers Press, 2011), is a compilation of interviews Weiner did with Vietnam War-era people.

Both the book and the play tell a cautionary tale of war, says Weiner, 63, a sixth-grade teacher at the Smith College Campus School in Northampton.

A staged reading of the play, directed by Daniel Kramer, who teaches directing, acting and film studies at Smith College in Northampton, will take place tonight at 7 at the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre at Smith College.

After reading Weiner’s book, “Called to Serve,” playwright and actor Peter Snoad of Boston decided to write the theatrical adaptation of the book. Snoad has had some 70 productions and staged readings of his plays produced in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore.

“When I read ‘Called To Serve,’ ” Snoad said in a recent phone interview, “I thought, ‘Wow, this would really lend itself well to dramatization.” Weiner said the play is derived almost completely from the book.

While “Called to Serve” features the stories of 30 people, Weiner had interviewed 60 people during his book research. Snoad interviewed all of those same people, but for dramatic purposes used only 10 narratives in the play.

Weiner said Snoad built his own relationship with these people and they grew to respect and open up to him.

“Snoad echoed my work beautifully. He immersed himself in it and did the playwriting with such integrity,” Weiner said. Getting the stories into the world, he added, will help to bring closure and healing for the veterans. “We are both on the same mission. He gets my work and gets what the work is supposed to do. It brings me joy.”

Although Weiner and Snoad say the play is meant to serve as a warning of the consequences and tragedies that war brings with it, they wanted to include a variety of perspectives.

For example, one of the characters in the play, who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), thinks the United States could have won the war if its leaders had been more determined. The part is based on John Bisbee of Chesterfield, Weiner said, a Vietnam War veteran who has struggled with PTSD.

At first, Bisbee was reluctant to have his story included in “The Draft.” But, since PTSD was not something that was addressed during the time of the war, and because so many veterans are affected by it, it is particularly important to acknowledge in this play, Weiner said.

“We went to his house twice, but it’s been challenging to get his agreement to be in the play,” Weiner said.

Eventually, according to Weiner, the writers showed Bisbee what Snoad had done with the script and his story. Once he saw what had been written, he agreed to be in it and even wanted to be introduced at the play reading.

“I think he was very moved,” Weiner said.

According to Weiner, the play follows people’s stories from age 18 or younger to their present age, so the eight local actors, ages of 18 to 25, will portray an age evolution.

The play is a chance for veterans to tell the truth about their lives and speak from their heart, Weiner says.

“I believe it has been very therapeutic for some of the veterans to see their stories written down,” Weiner said.

“I think this play is inevitably going to stir a lot of feelings,” Snoad said. “Hopefully the play will reflect other people’s experiences and make them relatable.”

Both men say they expect the play will affect each generation differently. Weiner says his generation is still greatly affected by the war and has struggled with carrying around deep emotions and secrets that still haunt them every day. However, he added, the play is for anyone who wishes to see the uncovering of powerful stories about combat, drug abuse and the many methods used by those who resisted the draft.

“Many of these incidents and events are not being shared any longer, if they ever were,” Weiner said. These stories are important because people in my generation are getting old and the kind of war Vietnam was is still an untold story.”

Snoad says he hopes people from the Vietnam War era will come to see how those shared experiences are presented onstage, while, for younger people, he added, it will be a window into a time period that they may not know very much about.

“I hope that they will find it relevant to today because it deals with some pretty timeless issues of what it means to be patriotic,” Snoad said.

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