L.S. Goldberg, a longtime Hoboken resident, isn’t one to throw away boxes packed away in an attic without looking through them first. A playwright and history buff to boot, Goldberg said she often looks to the past for artistic inspiration, a penchant which not long ago lead to her looking through the boxes in a family member’s attic.
“There was one box, and I’m lucky I was curious to look,” she said, before describing the treasure trove of correspondence written by her great uncle, who served in the oft-overlooked Persian conflict during World War II, when Russian and British forces invaded Nazi-friendly Iran to secure oil for Allied efforts on the Eastern Front.
From these letters, and her observations of the United States’ current wars, Goldberg recently penned “Yesterday Iran, Today Iraq,” a dialogue-driven, somewhat supernatural piece that recently completed an off-Broadway run as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival.
“What happens in war still comes down to human beings.” – L.S. Goldberg
As if getting to know a member of your family years after his death isn’t emotionally taxing enough, Goldberg interviewed several Iraq veterans before beginning her script. She called the experience of posthumously getting to know her uncle was a powerful one.
“I had only known him when I was very small,” she said. “And obviously this was only one aspect of him, but writing letters is a very revealing act, especially when their wartime letters.”
Likewise, Goldberg was so deeply moved by her interviews with the veterans that she began to consider her play a gift to them, she said.
“I felt like they were giving so much by speaking to me, I felt that I was being given an enormous amount of trust,” she said. “I had to do something special with that.”
After reading about 350 of her uncle’s letters and completing her interviews, Goldberg began to develop a script rife with conversation about the changing nature of war, and the type of technology used to develop new killing machines, all while in the name of minimizing one’s own casualties.
Lessons in war
Stippy, expecting an action-packed experience full of war’s latest technology is initially dismissive of his grandfather’s warnings that the real enemy in war comes from within.
“With all of the technology that’s used today, I think it’s easy to forget that there are actually people involved,” said Goldberg. “What happens in war still comes down to human beings.”
Goldberg said that that in giving Stippy a preview of war through his grandfather’s appearance through old letters, she was attempting to write the lesson many of the veterans she interviewed said they wish they’d had prior to their first deployment.
“The character is literally having this huge learning experience as he’s on his way out the door, on his way to what may be another huge learning experience,” said Goldberg. “And that’s important.”
Understanding the need to learn is the key in surviving anything, Goldberg said, whether you’re fighting in a war or writing a play.
“This was a fascinating experience for me,” she said. “As a playwright but also as a person who came to know a relative and a group of amazing people.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org