In honor of Veterans’ Day, I took in a showing of War Virgin. I first met the playwright, West Point grad and Iraqi War veteran Laura Westley, at the Army/Navy game in Philadelphia several years ago.
Westley is a former US Army Captain and West Point Class of 2001 graduate. She grew up in an oppressive household and was always trying to impress her domineering dad. She was told she would lose her sparkle if she had sex outside of marriage and she continued to follow that narrative until the finality of war caused a shift. This play with music is her very personal journey.
The play follows the chronicles of Westley’s life from childhood to West Point to-pre-invasion to liberation of Baghdad to coming home. As a veteran myself I related to her story quite a bit!
The play starts out with – of course – the National Anthem, which the audience stood up and sang along with Westley. She encourages audience laughter and participation, and cleverly interweaves her personal story throughout the performance through improv, song, and dance. Since Westley grew up in a strict Pentecostal home, she also threw in some religious hymns that audience was encouraged to sing along to, which I found hilarious.
During her teen years, she was told to not lose her ‘sparkle’ by putting a pill between her legs as birth control. She would look at girls’ eyes to see if they lost their sparkle, but she found the sexually active girls to be more attractive. She got into West Point and she made her dad proud, but she found that West Point was not conducive to an active sex life either, as it was forbidden for members of different sexes to be behind closed doors together. She vividly described what life was like at West Point as a female cadet, which was not as glamorous as I pictured it to be! When she deployed to war, she described the disgusting sanitary conditions by turning it into a hilarious song and dance about burning their waste.
War Virgin is very moving and relatable, and I found myself wiping away tears during the reconciliation with her dying dad, as she broke into the song, “Time to Say Goodbye.”
What makes this play unique is that it tackles sensitive subjects with humor and dignity. The play is about empowering people to live the lives they want.
The all-star cast did an incredible job!!! Westley served as the narrator, lead vocalist and producer. Westley’s voice is angelic and passionate.
Katelyn M. Stewart portrayed Laura with great vulnerability and sincerity.
Jordan Harner’s comic timing was evident in his performances as the minister, boyfriend, and colleague. His improv training shined through during unscripted moments when interacting with the audience. His turn as the Pentecostal minster was a hoot!!! On the other hand, Harner’s performance as the awkward boyfriend made me cringe!
Michael Cote brought levity and silliness to his portrayals as Westley’s stern father and her commander during the Iraq War. He plays a buffoonish type commander that symbolized the silly rules implemented in Iraq that prohibited sex and drinking. He also provided the fun choreography.
Gloria de Luna brought subtlety to her role as a dispirited mother. Her body language demonstrated her pain. Chazz Kleber stole the show with his dancing, high stilettos, and bright wigs. as part of the narration.
Ashley McConnell portrayed the West Point Man in the Red Sash and fellow soldier. A former Notre Dame football player, his chiseled looks and great physique and his comedic timing made watching him a delight!
Director Lil Bracaski succeeded in helping Westley turn this original one-woman show into an ensemble production with great results!!! The original music composed by Wendy Barmore and Westley, and accompanied on piano by David Hardy, add an emotional intensity to the show.
I highly recommend that all all veterans and non-veterans see this heartfelt show, which presents an unfiltered portrait of military life from a female veteran’s point of view.
War Virgin ends its run tonight, November 12, 2016 at 8 PM at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th Street, SE, in Washington, DC. Tickets may be purchased at the door.