Retired Green Beret Brings New Perspective to the Stage

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY MAY 25, 2018

As a retired lieutenant colonel with the United States Army, including 18 years as a Green Beret, Scott Mann has a somewhat different perspective on military stories than the average audience member. And from the silver screen to the stage, Mann noticed a troubling and pervasive problem that had nothing to do with firearms accuracy or politics, but rather a prevailing preference for stories of the first boots on the ground and the action and excitement of that moment, with far less focus on the aftermath and the reality of prolonged combat. “I didn’t see anything about the men and women who were the last out of those places,” says Mann, “who spend their entire adult lives fighting the same war.” So Mann wrote his own story, a play entitled Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret, which makes its premiere tonight at Florida Studio Theatre with a staged reading for Memorial Day weekend.

“I wanted to share the cost of war on not just our warriors,” says Mann, “but on our military families and on the nation.” And so Last Out finds its center in Army Green Beret Danny Preston, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who returns home to his own personal war transitioning to civilian life. Around him, his family struggles to help or just hold on. Technically the story is fiction, but all woven from both Mann’s own life and the experiences of his fellow veterans and their families. “But it’s certainly not autobiographical,” he says, making clear that the combat his characters talk about does not refer to his own personal experience, though he did see combat throughout his service. Other elements, however, come straight from his life story.

But playing with other people’s stories, and doing so responsibly, is the hard part. “It’s terrifying,” Mann clarifies. And so the budding playwright worked with the professionals at FST for two years to polish the project before revealing it at tonight’s reading. Beginning as a simple monologue about the green silly band his son gave him to wear on deployment, Mann has since developed that seed into a play for a cast of four—though the green silly band remains.

“I just want to do right by the men and women who are no longer with us,” says Mann, “and the men and women who sit in that audience.” Part of that means being apolitical with their experiences, and not using this moment and these stories to push a partisan political agenda. “I want the audience to understand the cost of war,” says Mann. “Then they can form whatever opinions they want.” His hope is to connect on a more personal level with the audience, particularly those veterans and families carrying their own untold burdens. Maybe Last Out, he says, can give some the courage to tell their own stories and begin the healing process. “If we don’t own our stories,” he says, “our stories own us.”

Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret premieres tonight at 7:30pm at FST.

Pictured: Scott Mann. Photo courtesy of Florida Studio Theatre.

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