Stephan Wolfert didn't grow up hearing Shakespeare. He came from a stoic community and family where feelings weren't discussed. Slight of build, he says he was bullied growing up and eventually ran away from all of it by joining the military at a young age. But his time in the Minnesota National Guard, as helpful as it was in many ways, was scarring in others, as when his best friend was killed in a training exercise.
And then he saw a production of Richard III and was captivated. Here was the military experience, told in a way that he'd never been able to himself. William Shakespeare knew veterans. He was surrounded by them. He wrote about them memorably and gave their characters great and lasting lines.
So it made sense to Wolfert that when he got out of the military and was putting together his one-man 75-minute play, Cry Havoc — returning to Houston next month at Spring Street Studios — that he use some of Shakespeare’s words intermixed with his own experiences to get across his feelings about war, service and death.
“He either provides a language that I lack to express how I feel or think or he elicits feelings in me when I hear it. It’ll pull up a feeling or memory I didn’t even remember I had. That tends to be the reaction of the audience as well,” Wolfert says.
He uses Cry Havoc as a way to help himself and other veterans transition back to normal society (he refers to it as de-cruiting) after coming out of the military life. "When they talk about him [Shakespeare] being the first psychologist, it's true."
Last year Wolfert fit a few shows in around the off nights when New York’s Bedlam theater company was in town doing Saint Joan. This year, as more people know what he’s all about, he’s here for more performances, once again hosted by 4th Wall Theatre Co.
The shows are not just for military veterans — although their tickets are discounted — but for anyone interested in listening to the experience.
Wolfert estimates that there are 25 million living veterans in the United States right now. He matches that with U.S. Census Bureau stats saying there's 3.14 family members per household and sociological studies showing the average American has two close personal friends who've been in the military. "You put those three numbers together and that means that 41 percent of the population is directly affected by the moods, behavior and actions of military veterans," Wolfert says.
"Houston has a lot of veterans and a lot of families of vets," he says. "Just come for understanding or even have the debate, and argue with me. The point is, let's have the discussion. Usually after military service, veterans struggle with the transition. Very often because I share my own struggles, quite often people come up to me after and say, 'I'm not a veteran but I completely identify with this part of your life or that part of your childhood.'
"That's Shakespeare and that's theater."
Performances are scheduled for June 7-18 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring. For information, call 832-786-1849 or visit 4thwalltheatreco.com. $29 to $49, $23 seniors, $15 students and $10 veterans with the code “Vet.”