From: John Hemington
Subject: Sam Hazo's 'Tell It To the Marines'
Sam Hazo's 'Tell It To the Marines' shows the brutal cost of war
Sgt. Mark Fayloga/Marine Corps
Brian O'Neill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
January 11, 2015 12:00 AM
I was wondering how Sam Hazo, author of a string of books as long as your arm, still has the drive to write at 86. Then I came to this line in his latest play:
"You're never too old or too young when it comes to matters of conscience, Leo,'' an old priest tells his twin brother. "Conscience has no birthdays.''
That's from the third and final act of "Tell It To the Marines.'' The six-character play will have a like number of performances at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland on the first two weekends of February.
That venerable hall may seem an unlikely setting for an anti-war play, but great homage is paid to Marines' sacrifice in this work, and there is no shortage of respect among Mr. Hazo's fellow military veterans for this playwright and his passion.
Mr. Hazo, who served stateside with the Marines in the 1950s, was an early critic of the second Iraq War. He's never wavered. His play, set entirely in a Pittsburgh living room in the fall of 2007, shows how that war — any war — devastates families.
It's such a fact-packed polemic it could be an op-ed piece in another form, but Mr. Hazo believes the better way to show the true consequences of war is through the same vehicle used by Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks.
On an afternoon last week so cold that schools were closing and all brass monkeys were advised to stay inside, Mr. Hazo crossed a couple of rivers to talk about the play in my North Side home.
"'Medea,' 'Oedipus,' 'Hamlet,' 'King Lear,' 'Othello,' 'Romeo and Juliet' — it all comes back to family,'' Mr. Hazo said. "It's the unavoidable unit of life. If you're sick in another city and have no one to look out for you, you know what family means.''
This play centers on four Marines from two generations in one family, the Killeens. Leo is the stalwart patriarch, a Vietnam veteran. His twin brother, Paul, is a Roman Catholic priest and godfather to Leo's two sons, Andy and Steve (who is never seen). Andy is home from the war in Iraq and Steve is still in the fight.
The arguments between father and son are heartfelt and bitter. Leo's wife, Edna, and Andy's wife, Madge, have cooler heads. The latter woman asks, "Neither of them are going to change, so what's the point?"
The same might be asked of the play itself. However artful the argument, it's coming long after most Americans have decided how they feel about the second Iraq War. But Mr. Hazo, who wrote this a couple of years ago, said he didn't write it to change minds. He doesn't believe writing is so much a willed activity as an "inescapable response to an impulse or idea or inspiration that demands to be put into words with the writer merely the indentured servant.''
The play's premiere at Soldiers & Sailors represents quite a turnabout. Back in 1991, during the first Iraq War, the hall's directors spent months trying to keep the local chapter of Veterans for Peace from even meeting there.
Current leadership is ready for the healthy clash of ideas in an all-American family. Soldiers & Sailors president and CEO John F. McCabe said this distinctive art form ties into the mission of honoring and remembering service members.
For director Rich Keitel, the challenge will be making sure the audience is watching a real family, not talking heads making political points. But with some of the city's best actors — Jeff Howell, Maura Minteer, David Crawford, Daina Michelle Griffith, Justin Fortunato, Tom Kolos — Mr. Keitel likes his chances.
Mr. Hazo, once Pennsylvania's poet laureate, has written before of the impotence of art against weapons. His poem "Parting Shot'' begins:
Nothing symphonic will come of this
nothing of consequence, and nothing
to silence those whose business
is creating funerals where widows
in their twenties carry folded flags
to empty bedrooms.