Sadly, Sophocles' "Ajax" holds real, relevant power almost 2,500 years after it was written. During the playwright's lifetime, the Greeks waged war on six fronts, and the works of Sophocles (who was a general himself), along with Aeschylus and Euripides, reflected the tragedy, horror, and spirit-destroying consequences of warfare. It's believed these war tragedies were performed for soldiers as a form of catharsis.
In "Ajax," the titular warrior is distraught over the death of Achilles, his friend, in battle; furious against his commanders; in shame of violence he commits in delusion; and ultimately takes his own life. Meanwhile, his wife and troops try to intervene. In a modern culture that willfully sends people to war and poorly takes care of them when they come home — around 20 veterans in the US commit suicide every day — so much of the emotional turmoil in "Ajax" reads like a reflection of Americans returning from war in Afghanistan.
The Theater of War project, which started in 2008, stages readings of "Ajax" and other Greek tragedies as a way to start dialogue about the human toll of combat, and the impact war has on the rest of a soldier's life. (And hopefully also about the causes of war and our government's rush to wage it.) The project and Veterans Outreach Center will stage a reading of scenes from "Ajax" on Friday, September 22, at Nazareth College Arts Center (4245 East Avenue), 6 p.m. Admission is free. Actors include Melissa Fitzgerald ("The West Wing" and director of Justice for Vets), Zach Grenier ("The Good Wife," "Deadwood"), Kathryn Erbe (pictured) ("Law & Order"), and Bryan Doerries (TOW artistic director). For more information, call VOC at 546-1081, or visit theaterofwar.com.