Marine Corps veteran Jack Eubanks ’17 will re-live some of the horrors of war – and his struggle for recovery – before a Vassar audience next week. He doesn’t expect the experience to be easy, for him or for those who watch it. Eubanks, director Emily Breeze ’14 and several other drama majors will present a dramatic reading of Beyond the Wall, a semi-autobiographical play he co-wrote based on an acclaimed novel of the same name by Alivia Tagliaferri.
“It’s a dark, sometimes gruesome play that isn’t easy to watch,” Eubanks says. “My Mom saw it recently. She cried a lot.”
The production, part of Modfest, will be presented Monday at 7 p.m. at the Streep Studio in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film. Admission is free.
The play focuses on the experiences of two generations of combat soldiers, one during the Vietnam War and the other in more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, where Eubanks served and was wounded three times. The first act follows Marines through training, the second chronicles their lives on the battlefield, and the third portrays their struggles to recover from their wounds, both physical and psychological.
Eubanks, who suffered a brain injury in Iraq that required him to re-learn how to read and write, says co-writing the play with Tagliaferri and collaborator Alexandre Buffington was an important part of his own healing. “It took a long time, but this project, which includes things I went through as well as some people I knew, has proven to be very cathartic.”
Breeze, who knew “almost nothing” about the military before she saw portions of the play performed for the Drama Department last semester, says she believes it’s important for students here to learn more about what many men and women their age have experienced. “One of the first things that struck me about Beyond the Wall was that most of the people in it are my age,” she says. “It’s about people we all went to high school with, and then our lives suddenly become very different.”
Breeze says one of the most cogent aspects of the play for her was its depiction of what combat veterans face when they return home. “When they were in the war, they had a focus, a sense of purpose. When they get home, the focus is less clear. They have a lot of space to fill.”
Eubanks says he can remember one of the first things he was asked to do as a Marine that demonstrated how different his life had become. “You’re 18 years old and suddenly someone is asking you to write your will,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s not something my friends back home are doing.’”
Eubanks is one of 11 military veterans who joined the freshman class last year under a program run by the Posse Foundation, an organization that helps non-traditional students enroll in prestigious colleges and universities. He says he hopes the play reading will help others in the student body understand what many veterans have experienced. Most plays and movies about war just aren’t accurate, he says. “I’ve never seen a war movie that gets it right,” Eubanks says. “Most of them glorify or romanticize it. In this play all the romance is gone, but it’s not all dark. It shows the patriotism too.”
Breeze says she hopes Monday’s play reading will serve as just one of a series of experiences that will help students learn what many of their contemporaries in the military are experiencing. “I think it’s good Vassar students are being exposed to this, and I hope it’s shown in other venues on campus in the future,” she says. “I see it as an opportunity to open some dialog.”
Eubanks agreed, noting that an additional 10 Posse scholars have already been accepted to next year’s freshman class. “There will be 21 of us on campus next year and more than 40 by the time I graduate,” he says. “I hope this play is one way to help bring many students here closer to us Posse folks.”
Credit: Carlisle Stockton