By Marie Pfeifer
When Stephan Wolfert left the Army after the first Gulf War, he began experiencing feelings of numbness and hair-trigger anger that excessive drinking could not cure.
One of his troops had committed suicide; another close friend had been killed in front of him during a training operation. Post-traumatic stress disorder was eating him up.
Help came from an unexpected source: William Shakespeare.
The fruits of that collaboration–Wolfert’s ticket to recovery–will be presented at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown at 9 am on Sunday, July 27, 2014.
Cry Havoc is Wolfert’s one-man play about a veteran’s struggles to reclaim his humanity after the horrors of war. He adapts the Bard’s prose, which is prescient.
Christine Spong of St. Peter’s calls the drama “powerful, emotional and provocative.”
“Mind-blowing, riveting, gut-wrenching, stupendous!” is how comedian Richard Lewis has described Cry Havoc.
CHANCE ENCOUNTER, STAGE SALVATION
Wolfert, now 47, met Shakespeare in Whitefish, Montana. The former soldier was traveling west by train, contemplating whether to return to military duty.
“I got off the train and wandered into a performance of Richard III,” Wolfert recounted. The hunchbacked Richard’s speech about “the winter of our discontent” resonated so deeply that Wolfert found himself sobbing uncontrollably.
The profound experience pointed him to a career in theater, his salvation.
“I realized I am not alone, this is my calling to help other vets. I also want to reclaim community theater,” said Wolfert, who married an actress, Dawn Stern.
Wolfert, a history major prior to his military stint, earned a master’s degree in theater at the Trinity Repertory Conservatory in Rhode Island.
He is founding artistic director of the Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, which develops stage productions by veterans and examines existing works from a veteran’s perspective.
The Wisconsin native also is head of outreach at the Bedlam Theatre in New York City, where he connects professional actors with city youth, and with area veterans who can use the stage to re-connect with life and forge onward.
The stakes are high. It is estimated that 22 members of the armed forces commit suicide every day, according to Newsmax.
HEAD OF DE-CRUITMENT
As a member of The Project for the Advancement of our Common Humanity at New York University, he works with psychologists and other professionals to help veterans overcome the embedded mentality of “us vs. them.”
He created another organization, De-Cruit, to apply his drama training to help vets “undo” their military training and the trauma from violence.
“The military trains combat soldiers ‘up’ but does not train them ‘back down,’” explained Wolfert, who served from 1986 to 1993.
“Consequently, when they arrive back home they know they are different than before — but the war is over and they don’t know what to do about their deformity.”
Sunday’s performance is free, and all are welcome. The show is in the Parish Hall, accessed via Miller Road, between Maple Avenue and South Street.
–Morristown Green Editor Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article stated that Stephan Wolfert served in Special Forces. St. Peter’s included that information in its publicity for the event. Although he had aspired to become a Green Beret, Wolfert said, he never served with that elite unit.