“We lost over 7000 soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq during the entire war but over 30 thousand veterans have committed suicide since coming home…” Borderless, written and performed by Peter-William Jamieson, is an achingly vulnerable glimpse on the micro level of the effects of the War on Terror on the soldiers who served.
The script is based on real stories from interviews with soldiers who returned from Afghanistan. The story starts with a young boy, Blake, from Newport, Oregon, whose father marries an Afghani immigrant with a son the same age, Hussan. The two boys become inseparable and look out for each other. After 9/11, Hussan decided he must return and help his people by enlisting in the American military. Blake does the same in an effort to stick with his brother. While stationed in a small town in Afghanistan, Hussan develops romantic feelings for a teacher in one of the schools the soldiers are assigned to rebuild. During night watches, the brothers would volunteer for the first watch together. Hussan would sneak out for a rendezvous with the local girl. One night watch, Hussan never returns. The watch ends in an explosion as the Taliban attack the town with bombs and gunfire. Once the combat ceases, Blake rushes into town to look for Hussan. He devastatingly finds Hussan dead, lying in a row next to the family of the girl he was seeing. Blake realizes the family’s son (whom he saw once in the house) had become radicalized and killed his relatives because of their worldviews and alliances with the American military. After the incident, Blake is soon flown back home to Oregon. Once home, he struggles to readjust to his civilian life and ends up leaving his family home and falling into a life of drugs and partying. One time, upon returning home to visit, he stopped at a local Afghani store for treats. Behind the counter, he sees the face of the man who killed his brother. In a trance, he waits in his car for the man to get off work and follows him home. An altercation ensues and the play ends with a question mark around Blake’s future.
Much of the story is told to a phone set up on a tripod onstage. I waited throughout the play for an explanation to the phone and the recording or the payoff to this conceit but it never came. Overall, I wished I knew who this character was speaking to and why he was sharing this story. These clarifications in the writing could have tied up some loose ends and allowed this important story to fully take center stage. In addition, the writing needed more transitional flow. The plot jumped around a little, which proved narratively interesting; however, the jumps in time and subject felt dissonant and took me out of the moment. Lastly, the ending came abruptly and offered no resolution or sense of completion to the story. While some of the elements of the script could use refining, the core story shines through with raw importance.
The performance and the technical design are what really sings in this show. Jamieson’s believable and vast emotional life helped to sell this story as his own. The lighting design by Rosie Dean is enveloping and effective. In the moments of adrenaline-fueled combat, the tech helps the audience buy into the stakes and environment. The direction smartly uses the minimal set and props to the show’s advantage. Director Christie Koppe creatively uses the same pieces to mean different things at different times. For example, a stack of sandbags is, in other moments, an enemy, a hideout and a lover. It is evident lots of care went into telling this story.
It is refreshing to see a narrative so different onstage. The message of this show is one not spoken about often. The show discusses the mental health of veterans in a new and innovative way. It is a political act in and of itself. This is an important play and one I am glad is being produced and seen.
"Borderless” Written and Performed by Peter-William Jamieson
Directed by Christie Koppe TheatreLab NYC
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Carmen! is a trans-multimedia artist specializing in playwriting, acting and crochet. Originally from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, they are currently based in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, returning to their Atlantic Oceanic roots. Their play Taking the Plunge has been performed at the Tank and the Chain off-Broadway and in the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival slated this June. Carmen has also worked in front-of-house and technical positions for prominent theater organizations including New Dramatists, Portland Playhouse, Emursive and Future Proof. Carmen’s mission is to use play to create meaningful representation by and for underrepresented communities. For more information on Carmen! Follow them on socials @carmenacetosociety or check out www.carmenburbridge.info