The Northampton Arts Council works to support and nurture the arts in the city of Northampton. The Council awards grants twice each year to artists and arts groups from both state and locally-raised funds, and seeks to improve public awareness of the arts. Its' goals include maintaining and preserving the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Northampton, programming such annual events of interest to the community as First Night Northampton and Transperformance.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Solidier's Heart: A Play by Tammy Ryan

Women in the military are more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat, studies have found.
“Soldier’s Heart”, a stage play by Tammy Ryan to be performed at the Academy of Music in Northampton September 18-20, confronts that issue head on, telling the story of Marine Sergeant Casey Johnson, a single mother, who leaves her young son behind and goes to war in Iraq.
In Iraq, amidst the horrors of combat, she experiences “military sexual trauma” by a fellow Marine.

Once home and in the grip of PTSD, she faces a daily struggle of survival in a post-war life. “Soldier’s Heart” not only looks at the subject of “MST”, but explores the issues that many returning combat vets face when their battlefield is now within their hearts and minds.

Director Robert Freedman of Northampton, a Navy veteran, was shocked to learn of the vast numbers of sexual assaults on both women and men in the military. “Until recently,” he said, “little attention was given to these attacks. One of playwright Tammy Ryan’s greatest strengths is the reality and vividness with which she draws her characters and that makes for a compelling truth and drama.  Many of our combat veterans are burdened by PTSD and suicide rates have skyrocketed.  “Soldier’s Heart” has given me an opportunity to examine the heartbreaking issues that our vets encounter and our country must address.”

The New York Times said of the play, which debuted is 2014, “The subject of sexual assault in the military gives the play weight and merit. Ms. Ryan deftly layers critical incidents that culminate in a forceful climax.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “A searing journey that is an all-enveloping battle from which you can barely come up for air.”

With assistance from Leigh Paz, a Marine veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Transitional Patient Advocate at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leeds, Freedman tries to examine what it means to be a combat veteran.

“None of my actors have a military background, but with Leigh’s help they are getting it right”
Given the nature of the story, Freedman is also relying on help from Sara Eichstaedt, a clinical social worker and MST counselor with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Having the correct Marine uniforms are necessary, but it is essential to understand the trauma that impacts Sgt. Casey Johnson”, Freedman added.

Myka Plunkett of Northampton portrays Casey Johnson. Plunkett has performed with New Century Theater and at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield.

“Working at being a Marine is a challenge,” Plunkett said.  “However, the greater challenge,” she added is “capturing the anger, rage, and loneliness of Casey Johnson.”

SOLDIER’S HEART: September 18-19, 7:30 pm, September 20, 2 pm. Academy of Music, Northampton. 413-584-9032, ext., 105. Online:, Box office hours: Tue.-Fri., 3 -6 pm. Tickets at the door. $20 general admission, $18 seniors, students, active duty military, veterans. Box office fees will apply. FOR MATURE AUDIENCES.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Northampton Arts Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, state agency.

Produced by special arrangement with the Susan Gurman Agency, LLC.

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