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'Great Game' gets encore, with Pentagon's applause

"It is actually not that special that we find the military open to innovative and groundbreaking approaches, whether it's in the area of public health, or technology," says Doerries, a translator and director by training. In this case, he adds, "the question is how do we re-humanize those who have lost touch with their humanity. And theater is obviously an answer."

Theater of War is also presenting its work in theaters, and the response there has been powerful, too. An evening at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in September that brought together a civilian and military audience was so successful that it is being repeated on Feb. 22. "It was just devastating," says Miriam Weisfeld, Woolly's director of artistic development. "It really taught us a lot about who our neighbors are."

The return of "The Great Game" was in part inspired by a successful presentation of the show last summer to the British military, an event that was publicly praised by a top British official, Gen. David Richards. According to Kent and others, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, after hearing favorable reports about the show, asked through the office of Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), for a video of the production. (Through a spokesman, Harman declined to comment.)

Tricycle has developed a special affinity for theater of up-to-the-minute topicality: Its play, "Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom," was based on letters, recorded testimony and other documents relating to Guantanamo Bay detainees and was produced locally in 2005 by Studio Theatre. That piece took a far more ideological approach than does "The Great Game," whose playlets, by mostly British and American writers, explore the frustrated effort by world powers to exert lasting military control in Afghanistan. While many of the pieces deal with diplomacy and warfare, others depict the lives of Afghan leaders and ordinary citizens.

"Quite a lot of our work has had an effect on national policy," Kent says, adding that he has been gratified by the openness of the Pentagon.

"I think that why they've responded is because a lot of very young people are going to a completely new culture in Afghanistan, a very tribal nation, and they know very little about the history," Kent says. "Therefore, this is a very good tool for that experience."

"The Great Game" is also being used, apparently, to help those who've been in combat process what they've been through. Accommodations are being made in Harman Hall to handle more than the normally expected number of disabled theatergoers.

"We've talked a lot about that with the Department of Defense. We're going to extend invitations to those hospitalized and receiving outpatient treatment at Walter Reed," the Woodruff Foundation's Bardorf says, referring to those recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "For the young warrior, certain parts of the play would make very good sense."

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