Monday, November 14, 2005

Former Topekan's play highlights effects of war

By Bill Blankenship

LAWRENCE -- A 1998 traffic accident that killed a good friend set Topeka native Zacory N. Boatright's life on a new path.

Boatright was an 18-year-old Wichita State University freshman majoring in saxophone performance seven years ago when he accompanied four Topeka friends to a Billy Joel concert in Chicago.

As they drove through Iowa before dawn Nov. 23, 1998, the car in which they were returning home was hit head on by a pickup truck whose driver swerved to avoid a deer but hit it before crossing the median into oncoming traffic.

Anna Riphahn, a 17-year-old Topeka High School junior who already had achieved acclaim as an author of children's books, was thrown from the vehicle and killed. Boatwright's girlfriend, Mary Harrison, whom he married in 2000, also was ejected and severely injured.

Boatright suffered the least physical injuries in the wreck -- the car's two other occupants, Jessica Buntain and Eric Daniels, required hospital stays -- but it had its effects.

"As a result of that car accident, I ended up back in Topeka during what should have been the spring semester of my freshman year in college," Boatright said.
Boatright, who was a four-year letterman on the Topeka High forensics team, was invited by his former coach, Pam McComas, to act as her assistant coach.

"I spent the next six months of my life reading old and new plays, scripts, making cuts of plays into short scenes and working with young actors on their scenes," Boatright said.

As a result of that collective experience, when Boatright returned to college it was to The University of Kansas to study creative writing. There, he wrote a play, "An Army of One," which will be staged this week at KU, from which he graduated in May.

"An Army of One," which is being co-produced by the University Theatre and the English Alternative Theatre, tells the story of a patriotic young American and his family's relationship to the military.

After returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, Joshua Harrison struggles to reconcile his memories of the war with the everyday realities of home. He is suffering the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the line that separates reality from memory fades as the two worlds collide. Past and present co-exist in the same space while Josh relives the war, this time waged entirely on the battlefield of the Harrison family home.

Boatright doesn't categorize his play as "pro-war" or "anti-war."

"This is a play about war -- a one-man war -- with the theme of oneness in the military," Boatright said. "These men are brothers in arms while in combat, but when they come home, they're alone."

Boatright said he was inspired during the writing of the play by a story he read in Newsweek about Jeffrey Lucey, a Marine reservist, who after completing his tour of duty in Iraq and returning home to his family, committed suicide because of problems with PTSD.

As to what Boatright wants audience members to get out of his play, he said: "I want them to be angry, to question what they believe. I want them to see the play, then look around and see if there are veterans like Josh around them."

Paul Hough, a KU alumnus and director of production for the American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City, Mo., directs the play, the cast of which includes Rachel Perry, a Topeka senior.

Boatright, the son of Rick and Sherry Boatright, currently lives in suburban Minneapolis, Minn., where he works as a production specialist and technical writer for an audio and video firm specializing in digital display technology. Mary Boatright is a law student at the University of Minnesota.

Riphahn is among the people Boatright thanks in the playwright notes for "An Army of One."

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