The stage of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional Auditorium was set with a handful of American flags and a few tiny microphones.
It was spare but powerful, intended to evoke the sentiments that were to play out in “Homefront 911: Military Family Monologues,” a poignant theater project brought to Capitol Hill on Thursday afternoon.
The performance aimed to remind spectators that when “our loved ones went to war, so did we.”
The primary writer and the director/executive producer, Stacy Bannerman, made a brief introduction before launching into her monologue.
“ ‘Dear Julie,’ ” she said. “ ‘The boy you love like a mama bear will be gone soon.’ ” The first character among many is the wife of a deployed serviceman who’s giving advice to a mother preparing to send her son off. The key part of this candid woman-to-woman advice session is, “ ‘ Vent when you need to. Weep when you must.’ ”
The theme of a “disconnection” between military and civilian families resonated with the audience.
“When I think back during the Vietnam War and other wars, people were really involved and made sacrifices,” said Ethelyn Holden-Baker, the mother of the lone male performer, Michael McPhearson.
“We’re not sacrificing for this war,” Holden-Baker said, then correcting herself: “These wars.”
The monologue starring her son is called “Sacrifice,” and in it McPhearson spotlights an example of Americans’ fading awareness and compassion for military families.
His character recounts an incident last year at Reagan National Airport involving the family of fallen serviceman Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson. Wilson’s family was returning home to bury him and needed six seats on a flight. Initially, just three people gave up their seats. Only after the airline implored the other passengers did three others offer their seats to the grieving relatives.
In another monologue, “Wedding Dress,” Tricia Radenz’ newlywed character reminisces about her reunion with her husband — when the military flies his coffin home and she welcomes him back wearing the dress he loved to see her in the most.
Ambra Roberts, whose son struggled after her husband was sent back to the front, said the monologues project have been a balm for her.
“It’s helping me to heal,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to be able to prevent this from happening to someone else maybe.
“Open the eyes of these lawmakers that when they decide to cut the funding to the military, that they realize that resources were not available to my child,” she continued. “I begged for resources.”
Other monologues touched on the challenges of dealing with the military bureaucracy. For mothers like Judy Linehan, who have endured that, it was an important message.
“We know they care. They want to get it right,” she said of military officials. “We want them to have the help they need to get it right, too.”
Linehan, whose son was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, said she got involved in the monologues project after meeting Bannerman through a military family group in 2004 in Washington state. Telling personal stories or those of other military families, Linehan said, will raise awareness.
“You can read about it, or we can tell anecdotes about people we know,” she said. “But in theater, we’re able to really get across the real reality of what we’re living. Nobody’s trying to be a victim. We just want people to know that this is the reality of it.