Art of war
Chico State grad brings experience in Iraq to his latest play
Chico, CA 95928
“I was probably the only soldier with an opera score on his operational table.”
Speaking by phone from his Seattle home with a hint of a smile in his voice, David Tucker II was referring to a copy of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro that he studied while on duty in Haiti in 1994.
The 45-year-old playwright, photographer and retired Army Reserve major was preparing for the post-Haiti civilian job he had just been hired for as director and PR person at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.
“I did the interview from a Humvee in Haiti in full battle gear,” Tucker said, illustrating his point: “You can be both creative and a soldier at the same time. In my family, straddling both the military and the arts is not unusual.”
His father, who died in October 2003 while Tucker was stationed in Iraq, served in the military reserve and was a painter/sculptor. And Tucker’s brother is a retired Army helicopter pilot and “an excellent painter and sculptor,” who makes fine-art furniture.
Tucker’s interest in theater and writing plays began as the result of taking a theater class during his last year of college at Chico State (he received a B.A. in journalism in 1985). He majored in journalism because he knew he wanted to write, but as he got older, he realized that he wanted to write creatively.
A single father of two sons, ages 5 and 9, Tucker has written several plays, including children’s musicals (he’s the media relations spokesperson for Seattle’s public schools). His latest play—a gripping, very human, and all-too-timely piece based on his 11 months as commander of a unit stationed in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004—is called, fittingly, Another Day in Baghdad.
So far the play has been presented only in workshop in Seattle. It will make its debut at the Blue Room Theatre here in Chico. It is currently being considered for production at 10 different theaters around the country, including ones in New York, Chicago and Seattle.
“It’s a play worth doing,” said Randy Wonzong, who’s directing the Blue Room production. “I think 20 years from now it will still be a play worth doing. Homer could have written this play, just without the soldiers’ uniforms and weapons …”
Wonzong is a retired Chico State theater professor who has been Tucker’s good friend and colleague for about 20 years, since Tucker first approached him to use his “great critical eye” on his scripts. Wonzong has come out of retirement (he directed his last play four years ago) specifically to be involved with Another Day in Baghdad.
“It’s such an excellent blend of drama, character study, issue and tragedy, probably the closest thing to an all-around theater experience I’ve worked on in 10 years,” he said. “I wanted to be the one to do it first in a fully staged production.”
In a recent interview, Wonzong actually became teary-eyed at one point, specifically when talking about the moving Christmas Eve scene that takes place at the end of Act I between one character, Top, and another named Peters, who is struggling with feelings of wartime fear, loss, shock and sadness over the sudden tragic death of a fellow soldier.
“Yeah, David knows how to kill you eight ways, but he’s also got a heart,” said Wonzong. “This is such a powerful play. It deals with that randomness of war. That’s one of the best things about the script. There are so many bittersweet moments. But best of all, it deals with important social issues.”
The character of Top significantly represents Tucker and his military experience in Baghdad, Bosnia and Haiti, and Wonzong describes him as “a tough son-of-a-bitch who is really a nice guy.”
Accuracy was important to the production—from using real uniforms and helmets, to the realistic replica weapons—but Wonzong insists that Another Day in Baghdad is not trying to make any bold political statements.
“You don’t walk out being for or against the war in Iraq,” he said. “You walk out feeling what it’s like to be a dedicated soldier in wartime.”