Sam Farnsworth wasn’t born when the Vietnam War was being fought, yet he’s immersed in stories and memories about it. He didn’t serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, either, but he’s putting himself in the middle of that, too.
Farnsworth, 23, is the playwright of “Welcome Home,” a play that will be performed Veterans Day weekend in Monson, Mass. “Welcome Home” tells that stories of four local veterans — two from the Vietnam era and two from Iraq — in hopes that people will understand the struggles of coming home from service. Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 10 and 11, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, at Memorial Hall. Tickets are available here or call 413-967-3887. A special performance is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m., at the Majestic Theatre in West Springfield. Call the box office, 413-747-7797, for tickets.
It is Farnsworth’s first major production of a play he’s written. He graduated from Boston University’s Theatre Arts program in 2016 and has written a dozen plays, with “infinite others” partially done. And, while he may be young, he’s no stranger to veterans issues.
“I sent (the play producers) one of my earlier works that is a play about trauma and PTSD that makes it more visible and helps people understand how to talk about it,” Farnsworth said. “Welcome Home” is an extension of that earlier play and starts with the veterans making small talk at their weekly card game. When one veteran starts talking about something that happened that week, it opens the door for the others to share more about their own lives, their own wartime struggles and their own post-war existence.
The card game setting felt natural to Farnsworth. “In card games, you don’t know what hand you’re going to get, the stakes can be high and you have to keep things hidden.” He added that the actors in “Welcome Home” will be playing an actual game of poker with real money and real deals. “That adds an energy,” Farnsworth smiled. “It’s not constant. Theatre is more exciting when something can go wrong.”
Farnsworth already knew JS, Hobbs, who wrote the story the “Welcome Home” play is based on, which helped both of them transition the story into a play. But, as a millennial, Farnsworth admits he didn’t realize the depth of the stories the veterans were telling.
“I always thought of war stories as intense heroics or horrifying annals of war,” he admits. “You don’t hear about the quiet times, the extravagant mundane.” He laughs about one veteran’s story about cleaning a latrine. And he marvels at the veterans’ talk of living conditions, both domestically and abroad. “You think your bed is small and your room is cramped — and then you get a roommate.”
There was a lot of back-and-forth between Farnsworth and the veterans as they created the play. Some of the stories had to be tweaked to be more anonymous, because all four veterans represented live in Central or Western Massachusetts. And some of the stories awakened feelings in the veterans, once they saw them in play form. “One vet said, ‘I realize I have more work to do, now that I’ve heard it through someone else,” Farnsworth said. “I knew from the beginning that the veterans’ reactions would be varied, but I was unaware to what extent.”
One of the veterans in “Welcome Home” is a woman who served her time in the U.S. “She talks about how you don’t have to go overseas to have traumatic experiences and how there’s no language to talk about her service. People tell her, ‘Oh, you had it easy, you didn’t see combat.’ But hearing how sexism was dealt with, brushed aside, or that it was her fault that people were doing horrible things, is traumatic. I knew it was a problem, but I didn’t know how deep it was,” Farnsworth said.
Farnsworth also worked hard to set the tone of the play so that people wouldn’t leave feeling bad and heavy. Instead, he wants them to feel like we can “win back our losses and move forward.”