By Christina Hallowell, Vice President
University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) theatre professor and Vietnam war veteran Peter Simmel, used his past experiences to direct this fall’s production, Steven Dietz’s “Last of the Boys,” a play that deals with the mental aspects of war.
Simmel has taught theatre at UMF for the past 15 years and is taking the opportunity to direct this controversial play based on his own war experiences. Simmel sought to find a play that focused on a social issue. “I understand the world of the play because I lived it,” said Simmel. “I have direct knowledge and experience with this subject and this time in history. The challenge comes when I try to transfer these experiences to a 19 or 20 year old who wasn’t even born yet during the war.”
Jagger Trouant, a junior and theatre major at UMF, is one of the leads in the show. “I’m still in the preparing stages and going through the script looking for more discoveries about my character, Ben,” said Trouant. “I’m still doing a lot of research on the war.” He has had Simmel as a professor and as a director in the past. Simmel has taught him and the rest of the cast how to prepare for a role that he personally cannot relate to. Trouant gave insight into his character in the play. “Ben thinks that the soldiers in the war were very noble men who did what they had to do.”
Simmel analyzes the themes within the show by saying, “It’s about [a] friendship these two individuals have after their experiences being veterans. It’s a journey for the two of them trying to understand not only their physical wounds they have, but more importantly the psychic and mental wounds that they carry as well.”
The lead characters in the production are, “two Vietnam vets who are still haunted by the spectacle of America’s most unpopular war,” said Simmel, who can speak from personal experience. “The Vietnam war was different than WWI and WWII.” American soldiers encountered an enemy that was unlike any they had seen before. “This was guerrilla warfare and we had never fought guerrilla warfare before; you just can’t train for it. This was a really toxic time and a toxic war,” said Simmel
The play does more than tell its audience about the residuals of war. “It’s a call to the next generation,” said Simmel. “ I dont want to be like the old sage and warn younger generations of potential problems, but I think that’s what theatre does. It’s my generation telling yours, ‘just remember what happened.” Simmel wants his students and the audience to learn from the mistakes of the past and grow from them. “Be very careful. Question authority,” said Simmel.
The downside to this play is there’s small cast, with only three male roles and two female roles. “It’s been hard lately because of the shrinking population in our department,” said Simmel. “We’ve lost a lot of seniors and now we have a new talent pool and it’s all about learning what they’re capable of doing.”
“The Last of the Boys” will be performed in the Alumni Theatre on October 23rd, 24th, and 25th at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee on October 26th at 1 p.m.