Green Room Online Northeast Indiana Theatre

Home | Illinois | Publications | Contact

Review: I Will Wait: Veteran's Spouse Project
by Jennifer Poiry, August 1, 2015

The soldier’s story has been told many times before. Movies, plays, novels, stories, and TV miniseries have told of the difficulties and horrors of war, the emotional journeys that military men and women take.

But finally, the spouses’ stories are front and center.

The beautifully written, staged, and performed I Will Wait: The Veteran’s Spouse Project by Gregory Stieber and Amy Ball-Uptgraft pays tribute to the men and women who stay at home, keeping their households and families together, while their husbands and wives fight for their country.

Although not without moments of gentleness and humor, the play pulls no punches. The spouses are not depicted as saints, who selflessly wait at home and endure patiently the burden of loneliness, single parenthood, worry, and doubt. Instead, they are portrayed honestly and realistically. They are angry. They question their loved one’s choices to serve. They resent being left behind.

I Will Wait - Jimmy Mitchell & Lindsay HoopsAnd that, the play affirms, is okay.

I Will Wait features 18 speaking roles interspersed with read 8 testimonials submitted by military spouses for this project. Representing the countless men and women waiting for their loved ones to return, the spouses in the play are unnamed in the script. Only the spouses in the read testimonials are named.

The world premiere production of I Will Wait featured a blend of rock music, dance, and heartfelt acting. Although the show could have been cast with only a handful of actors playing multiple roles, director/producer/writer Gregory Stieber assembled well over 50 of Fort Wayne’s finest actors, musicians, and dancers, many of whom accepted non-speaking ensemble roles, volunteered just for the privilege of being a part of the event, which raised money for the Richard Lugar Safe Haven for Veterans, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless veterans transition to permanent housing and receive treatment services.

Produced at the Parkview Physicians Group ArtsLab black box theatre at the Auer Center for the Arts, I Will Wait featured minimalist sets, putting the focus on the stories and the performances. A few chairs and some simple props were all that were needed to support the actors.

I Will WaitThe show opens with Mumford & Sons’ song “I Will Wait,” passionately performed by a live band of professional musicians (Danielle Andersen, Andrea Atwood, Jon Hartman, Danny Hipskind, Tom McSod, Felix Moxter, Michael Patterson, Paul Stephen, and David Trevino), all of whom volunteered their time for this project.

Five separate stories – two of homecoming and three of departure – are told. Ranging in time from World War II to the present, the stories are tied together by a character (played by Jake Wilhelm) who weaves his way throughout the scenes, creating unifying transitions.

Also bridging the stories are testimonials read by various actors. The testimonials were submitted by military spouses for this project. One describes the anger and resentment her husband felt upon his return from Vietnam, to a hostile country and two small sons who didn’t know him.  “He did all the heavy lifting,” she wrote. “I just tried to stand beside him and help him through.”

She downplays her role, but that’s what the entire evening is all about – the importance of just being there and helping them through.

I Will Wait - Bridget Pearson & Mason HunterThe first two stories are about homecoming. A young World War II wife (Bridget Pearson) is at her husband’s welcome home gathering, organized by the hilariously brash Connie (Natalie Y. Jones). The young wife tells her friend (Emily Arata) that she is worried her husband will look at her differently when he returns. “How can someone who did what he did for this country … think I’m anything special?” she worries.

Her concerns vanish as her husband arrives and dances with her to a lovely rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You” (sung by Courtney Heiser).

The second “homecoming” story has a completely different feel. Leslie Beauchamp as the Spouse and her real-life daughter Emma Beauchamp are utterly heartbreaking as the stoic mother and daughter waiting for their soldier’s return from the Korean War. Dotty Miller and Joel Grillo provide humor and gravitas respectively, and Jenna Bruin’s ballet performance adds to the beauty of the scene.

Spouse #3 (played by Regan Kreigh) is a different animal entirely. A feisty 1960s woman, she is downright angry that her husband, an Army doctor (Brad Beauchamp) is returning to Vietnam, leaving her to be father and mother to their teenage son (Sean Arata). Meanwhile, protestors loudly taunt her brave husband as a “baby killer.” The scene ends with a shock that leaves the woman reeling.

In the fourth story, we are introduced to a more modern military spousal conflict: a civilian husband (Jimmy Mitchell) and his wife, a Desert Storm service member (Lindsay Hoops). This story deserves its own full-length play. The wife had entered the military to put herself through college but unexpectedly embraced her mission. Her spouse expresses his frustration and embarrassment that he is staying home while his “wife fights Saddam Hussein.” She reminds him that thousands of women have done the same thing “since the beginning of time.” She agrees that he is her “rock,” but adds coldly, “Don’t fool yourself.  You are not special.”

I Will Wait - Leslie BeauchampNot all of the stories have happy endings.

The play was the brainchild of Amy Ball-Uptgraft, who has lived the life of a military spouse for the past 16 years, through multiple overseas deployments. She herself takes center stage as Spouse #5 in the final scene, a post-9/11 story about modern life as a military spouse. The scene runs the gamut of emotions, and features some of the most humorous and natural interpersonal connections among the actors. As she waits for her husband Jimmy (Stuart Hepler) at an airfield hangar for an all-too-brief reunion before his next deployment, her friends Beth (JoAnne Kirchner) and Kelly (Rachel Fox) share their feelings about their experiences. Several different elements are brought to the surface: Beth enjoyed the solitude when her husband was deployed. Kelly describes her husband’s withdrawal and short temper since his return – hinting at post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) without using triggering language.

Spouse #5 sums up the purpose of this project: “Beneath the humble shrugs and the quiet smiles and the ‘he’s the real hero,’ we all feel like we are cracking from the inside out.”

Back to Publications

Home | Illinois | Publications | Contact