“Heaven, Hell or Hoboken” is a phrase you’ll hear often in this town, more so as we gear up to commemorate our nation’s involvement in World War I.
Actor Douglas Taurel knows a lot about this phrase. Not only does he live here in Hoboken, but he also stars in The American Soldier—a powerful one-man play based on real stories and accounts from soldiers’ letters written from the American Revolution through current day Afghanistan.
The idea behind The American Soldier is to reveal the struggles our troops face at war and their internal struggles to come back home.
Taurel, whose credits include Mr. Robot, Nurse Jackie, The Americans and much more, has received tremendous critical acclaim for his production of The American Soldier, which he will be bringing to The Mile Square Theatre (1400 Clinton St.) this weekend, September 9, 10, & 11.
We were luck enough to catch up with Taurel before his run…
hMAG: Tell us about The American Soldier. How do you take the audience through the lives of 14 different soldiers?
Douglas Taurel: My show is based on actual letters and accounts that I have researched and collected from veterans and their family members. The stories and letters are collected as far back as the American Revolution all the way through our current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I tell the story with a through line and a message I am trying to communicate and not chronologically. I play soldiers ranging from Revolution, Civil War, World War I, WWII, Vietnam, Iraq & Afghanistan. A father in the wake of his soldier son’s suicide, a wife and son dealing with the fathers absence while he away at way and a grieving mother remembering her son and his story of how he died.
H: What is the journey like for you, bringing these 14 veterans and their family members to life?
DT: At the end of each show, I am absolutely emotionally drained. I spend some time socializing after the show—we have a lot of veterans and their families come and they often express their gratitude—and then go home to decompress. It’s really like running marathon and such an emotional event, so I’ve learned that it’s very important to reserve some time for yourself after the show is done.
H: The stories range from the Revolutionary War to present day Afghanistan. Are there certain themes that stand out or major discoveries you made about the impact of war over hundreds of years?
DT: My play does touch on PTSD and it is the layer that everyone gravitates to, but I also touch on many other aspects of war. However, the theme that seems to keep coming up in all wars is PTSD. It is a little fascinating because PTSD has been written about by Homer in Achilles and Shakespeare also talks about it in Henry IV part 2. I had no idea that it had been documented so long and that deep of history of it. The impact of men losing their brothers in combat is tragic to the human soul. Brotherhood is a huge theme and every single war; it’s what they all talk about.
H: What does is meant to be performing here in Hoboken, where so many men shipped out for service in World War I?
DT: It is an honor to be performing where both of my children where born (St. Mary’s Hospital) and were my family and I call home. We are very proud to call Hoboken our home.
“Heaven, Hell or Hoboken” was the rallying cry for our young fighting soldiers. Close to 2 millions soldiers passed through Hoboken before they went off to fight in WWI, and close to 6,000 of them gave the ultimate sacrifice and came back home to Hoboken on the transport ship Wheaton. It is a great honor and privilege to be doing this show here in Hoboken which was such a critical part in helping the United States defend everything it stands for. When I perform my WWI piece in the show, it will be very poignant and powerful for me and the audience. As my character says in the monologue, “We fight for each other Charlie. Don’t you ever forget that!”
H: The weekend you’re performing is a poignant one here in the NY Metro Area. What impact did 9/11 have on you as an actor? What impact did it have on the writing of this play?
DT: I moved to Hoboken from Houston, Texas in December of 2000 and was about a block away coming out of the Twin Towers when the first plane hit. I will never forget it, and there will never be a clear day when I am not reminded of tragedy of 9/11. This 9/11 anniversary will mark the beginning of 15 years of sustained war and multiple deployments in the Middle East borne by less than 1% of the population. I started getting immersed in veteran diaries and letters as I started reading about the struggles veterans where having when they were coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. That was foundation period of this show. September 11th even 20 years down the road, when we think of it as Pearl Harbor and as an after thought, will always be a very impactful day for me as a person an as an artist.
H: Why is the story of a soldier so important to you? What makes you so passionate about this play?
DT: I believe that we all need to understand the incredible sacrifices our veterans and their families have made for us and our freedoms. As a father and a husband, there are questions I ponder with such as Could I move forward knowing that my son was lost because of a war? Would I be able to give my life for a brother in arms? How would I respond under horrific violence and could I recover?
These questions I feel should be asked by everyone so that we can have a better understanding of our veterans and their families. I believe we have a duty to tell their stories and to hear their stories so that we can honor them and help them.
H: What do you hope audiences will ultimately take away from The American Solider as they leave the theater each night?
DT: It’s a different time that we live in, because with WWII for example, everyone knew someone who went off to war—you had a father, neighbor, brother, someone – and now civilians don’t have as much of a direct connection to it. My goal is for audiences to see veterans differently and for them to take away a deeper admiration and appreciation of sacrifice.
The American Soldier
written and performed by Douglas Taurel
September 9 @ 8pm
September 10 @ 8pm
September 11 @ 5pm
Tickets $25/$18 for seniors/students
Mile Square Theatre
1400 Clinton Street (and 14th Street)