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Armstrong’s War a clever exploration of complex issues

Veteran David Austin and County resident Alice Graham in rehearsal.

After suffering an injury during a military tour of Afghanistan, Michael, a young soldier, is recovering in the rehabilitation wing of a hospital. The last thing he wants is to spend time with a 12-year-old girl, but Halley, a spirited Pathfinder Girl Guide, and self-described reading fiend, is eager to earn her community service badge.

The two are characters in the play Armstrong’s War, a two-hander by Governor General Award winner Colleen Murphy that is set to hit the stage at Picton’s Regent Theatre later this month.

The pair is at odds from the start, but they find a shared interest in ‘The Red Badge of Courage’, the classic American Civil War novel, which spurs them to reveal their own stories. As their friendship grows, uncomfortable truths are exposed and questioned, redefining the meaning of courage and heroism.

Michael is portrayed by Daryl Austin, from the Trenton area, and a Canadian veteran who works at 8 Wing. He served 18 years in the militry as a paratrooper until he was injured. Like his character, he also served in Afghanistan, and they both suffered the same injury.

“This play is very close to home for Daryl, as he has a strong connection to the material,” said Georgia Papanicolaou, co-founder and artistic director with Shatterbox Theatre. “His character Michael opens up to Halley about his past, and he in turn gets Halley to confide in him how she was injured.”

Alice Graham plays Halley

County resident Alice Graham, 13, plays Halley, who has suffered an injury which has confined her to a wheelchair. Graham has performed in several Marysburgh Mummers musicals as part of the ensemble.

“Her first non-musical play was Alice in Wonderland where she played Alice,” said Papanicolaou. “Those who have seen her perform before will be pleasantly surprised to see her take on a completely different role. She’s a very courageous and hopeful young lady that inspires the soldier character in the play to open up about his past experience in the war. Her performance is powerful and delicate. She’s a very talented young actress.”

When Papanicolaou read the play, she was struck by Halley’s character and Colleen Murphy’s writing.

“The character’s stories were so real and powerful and the hope that Halley embodies is so inspiring. She comes into the soldier’s life at a time that is difficult for him, when he doesn’t want anything to do with her and she doesn’t back down. She soldiers on and gets him to warm up to her and open up.

“This play is a celebration of the cathartic power of written words. When you take ownership of your story and open up about it, the process can be very healing. Both of these characters help each other heal in so many ways beyond the physical injuries they have endured.”

Shatterbox, she adds, was delighted the play opened the door to incorporate and mentor young people in theatre. As well as Graham, 13-year-old Abby Dunn is assistant stage manager and a resident artist and 15-year-old Ally Careen is learning about lighting and artistic design.

Shatterbox is a not-for-profit theatre group hosting a collective of local artists and theatre lovers from many disciplines.

“We work together to create experiences that will spark dialogue and conversation with those who see our work, and those who create it,” said Papanicolaou, who co-founded with Samantha Branderhorst last November.

“Our goal is to provide affordable and accessible theatre to our community and we want to foster and strengthen community partnerships in the arts for both adults and youth,” Papanicolaou, added.

In honour of The Regent Theatre’s 100th anniversary in November, Shatterbox Theatre will be donating ticket proceeds from all three of its Armstrong’s War shows on November 23rd, 24th and 25th to The Regent Theatre Foundation. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.

“We want to fill all of the 432 seats of the theatre for all three shows. If we do that, we can raise well over $20,000 for the Regent.”

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