Review by Howard Freedlander, first published in The Talbot Spy.
An opening happened in Easton on Saturday night with the first of two performances of “Modern Warrior Live,” about which I wrote a few months ago. This unusual, powerful musical drama tells a story about a young veteran of three tours as an infantryman in Afghanistan and his sometimes tortuous effort to acclimate himself to a civilian world devoid of a constant struggle to stay alive and protect your buddies. He confronted the death of fellow soldiers and the collapse of personal relationships back home.
Poling’s story is poignant. The message is broader than his wartime and civilian experiences. For me, the underlying theme is the difficulty of melding military and civilian sensitivities in such a way that returning veterans and the families, friends, and co-workers that provide the welcoming mat understand the tension that can divide the two parties.
The music produced by Dominic Farinacci, a world-class trumpet player, three singers and instrumentalists beautifully and strikingly enhanced the power and pungency of Poling’s autobiographical story.
Sitting in the Avalon Theatre, I found myself transfixed by the message and music. Farinacci’s trumpet sang with its variations of somber and upbeat sounds. Those accompanying him on the piano, string instruments, and drums provided a magnificent blend of spellbinding music.
And the three singers provided an extension of Poling’s story, probing the depths of his utterly frank talk of deadly combat action, searing introspection about war and family, despair prompted by a complex re-entry into the civilian world and, finally, the self-satisfaction of using the past to chart an optimistic future.
As I knew from speaking recently with Farinacci and Poling, the final takeaway from the show was that veterans are not damaged goods unable to adapt to lives without combat and intense bonding. Wartime experience can and does lay a foundation for personal growth and achievement—but not without a struggle at times.
It would have been difficult, if not impossible to walk away from this performance without absorbing its celebration of veterans and their intense challenges back home.
Without the support of Richard Marks and Al Sikes, two community leaders known for their commitment not only to “Modern Warrior Live,” but also to other local activities, this unusual music drama would have bypassed Easton on its way to New York.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.
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