It can be difficult for veterans to make their friends and family fully understand what they went through while deployed. A new stage play is trying to help bridge that comprehension gap.
“Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret” is currently on a 20-city national tour, including three shows this Memorial Day Weekend on May 24-25 at Northern Virginia Community College’s campus in Annandale, Va. The play follows Master Sgt. Danny Patton on a journey back through his life after he is mortally wounded.
“It seems like all the stories these days are about the first stand,” said Scott Mann, the show’s playwright, star and a Green Beret veteran. “You usually don’t hear the stories about the last out … and that’s what this play is really about, the universal story of the ‘long war.’”
The show features four military-affiliated actors playing 13 different characters who reveal more and more about Danny’s experiences before and after he became a Green Beret. All the proceeds it earns go to The Heroes Journey, a nonprofit founded by Mann and his wife Monty dedicated to giving veterans the confidence and tools to tell their own stories.
In “Last Out,” audiences get to see both Danny’s civilian life and relive the traumatic experiences he went through as a Green Beret while he is trapped in a no-man’s land between his fire base in Afghanistan and his family’s living room back home.
“It’s representative of the purgatory so many warriors are in,” Mann said. “When you’re at home you’re wishing you’re at combat, and when you’re at combat you’re wishing you’re at home.”
There are only four actors in the whole show, including Mann, who spent 18 of his 23 years in the Army as a Green Beret; Bryan Bachman, a former Army paratrooper; Leonard Bruce, also a former Green Beret; and Ame Livingston, the play’s director and a military family member.
Green Berets are like “a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia,” as Mann put it, in that their main job is to parachute behind enemy lines and work with indigenous people to help them stand up to their oppressors. He did that all over the world during his time as a Green Beret in places like Ecuador, Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Peru and Panama. He helped create a program, called the Afghan Local Police/Village Stability Operations, designed to teach Afghans to create a local bulwark against the Taliban. And he published “Game Changers,” a book about how this and similar programs can be made to work.
Mann joined the Army in 1996, but was profoundly affected by 9/11 after his best friend Cliff Patterson was killed in the attack on the Pentagon. It led him down a dark path both during and after his service. Storytelling helped Mann reconnect with himself and the world, and he hopes to do the same for others with “Last Out.”
He said he wrote this show both to “inform civilians” about the horrors service members endured while at war and “heal veterans” through validating their experiences in the form of live theater. Mann said that he loves bringing together audiences full of civilians, active-duty personnel, veterans, Gold Star families and more.
“Everyone in that room feels like they’ve gone to war with Master Sgt. Danny Patton,” he said.
He is also particularly pleased with the way his show portrays military families, which he believes is another victory for theatrical military representation.
“You really get an honest look at what this life is like trying to get through deployment after deployment,” he said.
What he’s most proud of, though, are the veterans who have told him they feel seen after watching “Last Out” and the sister of a Green Beret who told him that she learned more about her brother’s military-induced trauma in 85 minutes than she did in five years of him trying to explain it to her.
“Whether you’ve served in the military or not, it will really help you better understand the impact of war,” Mann said.