By Scott Meeker
Three award-winning actors will travel to Joplin this month as part of a special program designed to open up dialogue about the loss suffered by the community during the tornado.
The dramatic readings from the Book of Job — featuring Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn and Arliss Howard — will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 20, at College Heights Christian Church, and 6 p.m. at Memorial Middle School. College Heights is presenting the first performance, while the latter is presented by Ozark Center.
An acclaimed character actor who has appeared in such films as “Sideways,” “Cinderella Man” and “Saving Private Ryan,” Giamatti won an Emmy and Golden Globe for his starring role in the HBO miniseries “John Adams.”
Strathairn has appeared in such movies as “The Firm,” “L.A. Confidential” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and was nominated for Best Actor for his role as Edgar R. Murrow in “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
Howard’s film credits include roles in “Moneyball,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Amistad,” as well as a two-year arc on the TV show “Medium.”
The event is presented by Outside the Wire, a program that connects classic texts with modern audiences.
“I have a background in the classics, and had sort of an abiding belief that these ancient stories have relevance and importance to the modern world,” said Outside the Wire co-founder Bryan Doerries.
One of the first programs presented was “Theater of War,” which uses the Sophocles play “Ajax” to connect with military audiences.
“It’s about the seen and unseen wounds of war,” said Doerries. “That project has been tremendously successful. It’s been performed for more than 40,000 veterans and families all over the world, from high-ranking Pentagon officials to veterans in homeless shelters to infantry Marines around the world.”
Today, Outside the Wire has expanded to 10 projects — using texts that speak to military personnel, correctional workers, end of life care and substance abuse. More than 100 actors have lent their talents to the group, including Jesse Eisenberg, Terrence Howard, Debra Winger and Dianne Weist.
The texts are presented as no-frills dramatic readings, designed for maximum emotional impact.
“It’s actors reading scripts in their own clothes and no props, just microphones,” he said. “They give the text everything they’ve got emotionally. It’s coming at you full tilt, and it’s extremely powerful the way it’s delivered.”
The key is always trying to match the right text with the right audience. He said that when the idea of doing a performance in Joplin was posed, he thought that readings from the Book of Job — the biblical story that begins and ends in a whirlwind, about a man whose life and livelihood are upended by suffering — seemed like a natural fit for the community.
It is the first time Outside the Wire has presented a program specifically in response to a disaster.
Doerries, who adapted and directs the presentation, said that he has been working closely with College Heights Pastor Randy Garris in shaping a program that will be therapeutic for local audiences.
Garris said that the Book of Job is one that holds special meaning in post-tornado Joplin. The fact that some were killed while others were spared, the lack of rhyme or reason to it, is one that everyone can identify with — regardless of religious denomination or even lack thereof.
“Job is inspired and certainly a classic of classics,” Garris said. “Knowing that all the generations ahead of me wrestled with the same thing — what it means to be a human being, and that some of my questions will never be answered — there’s comfort in that.
“In the end, my questions melt away a bit into the woodwork. I identify with the character of my God and trust him even more.”
Garris said that after the reading, a pre-chosen panel will share its response. The panel will include an individual who suffered a personal loss in the tornado, someone who was a caregiver to others, a mental health worker, and a pastor or minister.
After their response, those in attendance will also have an opportunity to share their reactions and feelings.
“I do believe that community dialogue is healing,” Garris said. “It puts reality on the table and lets us be neighbors. There’s no personal agenda to this, and our personal views are secondary.
“I read the script through. It’s just a shortened version of Job, but it’s powerful ... incredibly powerful. It states the things that we all wrestle with.
“There is real value here. In many ways it’s what you would have in a family discussion. It lays all of the emotions out first, and then people respond.”
There will be no encores or curtain calls after the reading. The three actors will take their seats to keep the emphasis on the purpose of the program.
“I don’t see it as entertainment. Everything we’re doing, it’s in the end a catalyst for discussion that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” Doerries said.
“We’ve lost touch in our culture with the power of spoken word and bearing witness to our responses. It goes back to the time when we sat around campfires and intergenerationally shared our stories.”