In the Moment: ‘Last Out’ by The Heroes Journey

Last Out is a raw emotional journey with no illusions as its core value.

It is an intense confessional about military service and the effects on family, told from multiple perspectives. It is no sanitized, pretty TED Talk with nifty projections from practiced narrators. Last Out, a short-run, touring production, begins with trigger warnings about its content; the least of which is its strong earthy language. Last Out is a unique wartime tale not about those first in to where few tread, but those last out, with a military spouse front and center to the unraveling story about sacrifice.

The cast of 'Last Out': Scott Mann, Bryan Bachman, Ame Livingston, and Len Bruce. Photo courtesy of 'Last Out.'
The cast of ‘Last Out’: Scott Mann, Bryan Bachman, Ame Livingston, and Len Bruce. Photo courtesy of ‘Last Out.’

Last Out is also centered upon a newer generation of military service members who are largely yet to be depicted on stage with the long war in Afghanistan a central focus. After all, Gulf War-era veterans now account for the largest share of all U.S. veteranssurpassing Vietnam-era veterans. Last Out also has a stated goal to cross the military-civilian gap. A recent Pew Research study indicated that a smaller share of Americans currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces than at any time since the peacetime era between World Wars I and II.

Last Out (full title is Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret) is not is the usual testosterone-fueled derring-do tale of brave men taking on an external enemy. It is a production full of heartbreak. Preshow music such as Simon and Garfunkel’s “ The Sound of Silence” gives hints of what may be in store for audiences. You remember that line, “Hello darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again.”

Last Out is about a modern-day warrior caught up fighting battles “that range from Afghanistan to his own living room” as the corrosive gears of war “affect his family, his integrity, and his very soul” as the production’s program states. “He discovers that combat can be fueled by vengeance or by love… it just depends which price you are willing to pay.”

Over the course of the one-act play, scenes dissolve somewhere in the here-and-now and the afterlife framed by the endless war that is Afghanistan. In a back-and-forth time frame covering over 25 years of time (1989-2015) it resembles an ancient Greek tale about warriors and heroes’ journeys–but in this case an American warrior, a Green Beret.

Last Out has intense, gut-wrenching direction from Ame Livingston. The production is ably and sympathetically performed by a diverse cast of four, with three actors playing multiple characters. Three of the actors are retired military veterans who saw combat and upon leaving military service became trained professional actors. The fourth is from a military family.

The actors and their main roles include Scott Mann as Danny Patton, a Green Beret killed in action in Afghanistan and now caught between life and the afterlife. Patton is no simple “gung-ho” trigger-happy man with an M4 Carbine. Rather he is a complex, sensitive man with a heart and soul. Ame Livingston portrays Lynn Patton, Danny’s long-suffering wife. (There is a scene in which she hugs her stage husband that puts the final hug in the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman” to shame).

Bryan Bachman is Danny’s senior sergeant and friend who also portrays a Special Forces Officer at terrible odds with Danny. Danny has a nuanced view of the Afghan population while his commanding officer sees things in black-and-white terms. Len Bruce is Kenny Suggins, a close friend of Danny’s killed in the Pentagon on 9/11. He also plays an Afghan Pashtun Elder.

The set design (Mark Hartley), Lights (William Glenn), Audio (“Big Bob” Ballas and Mark Prator), and Film (Kevin Lang) bring to emotions to the audience. The design includes boxes and objects that turn into more than props, including a silent spinning red light that alerts the cast and the audience when the chaos of battle is near.

Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret is a production way beyond war as combat or magnificent speeches such as Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day call to arms. It is about war’s effects that few know firsthand–its effects on home life and family, or the one with the initials PTSD. While the Last Out performance presumes some knowledge and relationship with military service, none is necessary. It is uncompromising, intense and intimate, and for those open to see a different side of those who serve.

War is a horror. Based upon true stories, Last Out more than suggests, there is never a “last one” out from the burden of war. The legacies, of whatever dimension, continue through generations. Last Out aims and succeeds at showing that to those open to it.

Running Time: About 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret, presented by The Heroes Journey, played three performances on May 24-25, 2019 at the Richard J Ernst Community Cultural Center – 8333 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA.

Note: For those interested in a broad look at connections between theater and military service, American Theatre has a long-standing commitment to the military community. “War and its fighters have been theatrical subjects since theatre began, as have the moral quandaries they pose. In this special collection of stories, we look at the ways the American theatre is telling the stories of today’s warriors and veterans—often with their collaboration.” More information can be found here.