Theater of War

Playwright Sean Huze, shown with a scale model of the set for
Playwright Sean Huze, shown with a scale model of the set for "The Sand Storm," did his research the hard way. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 8, 2005

It's been a very bad week for the Marines in Iraq, and playwright Sean Huze is taking it personally. "Twenty-one Marines killed in the past 48 hours," he says, his voice rising in anger. "I wonder when we've had enough -- when we as a society will hold this administration accountable for getting us into a war unnecessarily."

Huze, 30, lean and tattooed, sips from a can of Red Bull and drags on his cigarette outside MetroStage, the small theater in Alexandria where he is overseeing rehearsals for his first play, "The Sand Storm: Stories From the Front." You might be tempted to dismiss him as another antiwar Hollywood liberal -- he is, after all, an actor and playwright from Los Angeles -- except there's this: Until a few months ago, he was Marine Cpl. Huze, a veteran of combat in Iraq. He also was one of those gung-ho young patriots who marched into recruiting offices on Sept. 12, 2001, itching for payback.

Nicknamed "Hollywood" by his fellow Marines, Huze joined the invasion force that toppled Saddam Hussein. More than two years later, buddies in his old unit, the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, are still in Iraq, attempting to disrupt insurgent supply lines in the western Anbar province. When his eyes redden and mist with tears, you get it: This war is still inside him.

"You don't come back the same man," he says, lighting another Natural American Spirit cigarette on an ovenlike evening last week after news broke that 14 Marines had died in a massive roadside bombing in Anbar. "So in essence, no one returns from the war."

A cliche, perhaps, but one that has given the world a significant body of literature. Huze doesn't necessarily expect to join the ranks of Homer, Hemingway or Mailer, but says there was only one way to process what he saw and did in Iraq: "I wrote."

"Sand Storm" is a 70-minute series of monologues delivered by 11 characters, all of whom represent some part of his combat experience. The one-act play enjoyed two popular runs in Los Angeles, where the LA Weekly described its vignettes as "raw transcripts of war."

Here's a grunt named Pfc. Weems, looking for survivors after an assault that left numerous civilians dead:

"My ankle rolled and I almost fell into a pile of dead hajjis . I caught my balance and looked down to see what had tripped me. It was a foot. . . . I picked it up and stared at it. I couldn't get past it. I was stuck on this foot."

And here's the ghostly character called the Fallen Marine:

"You're supposed to go through absolute Hell, become something so base you can't hardly believe it's still you, but whatever you do, if you make it home, keep it to yourself."

When Huze came back, he found that he couldn't do that.

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