If you've ever been in love, you probably know that it can yield emotional wounds. Some bumps and scrapes heal over time, but recovering from enduring trauma is much more difficult. Madison playwright Nick Schweitzer's new Love and Trauma explores what happens when psychological abuse and violence are an ongoing part of a love affair. He also takes a look at what happens when the victim strikes back. Wilder Theater stages the play at the Bartell Theatre Jan. 10-12.
Love and Trauma is set in a courtroom, where Kelsey Scott (Elizabeth Chen) is on trial for murder. She's endured years of abuse at the hands of her husband, Brad (Andy Lindgren). The play grew out of Schweitzer's interest in post-traumatic stress disorder, a subject that has inspired several of his other plays. These include The Tragedy of Achilles in Vietnam and Returning Home, which deals with Iraq and Afghanistan vets.
Ancient Greek literature was the starting point for these works, Schweitzer says.
"A friend who happened to be a Vietnam vet and member of Veterans for Peace, knowing of my fascination with The Iliad, gave me a copy of [the book] Achilles in Vietnam. It was my introduction to PTSD," he says. "I find it compelling because it's so far beyond my experience, and yet I'm sure I walk past people every day with those scars."
But PTSD can also stem from domestic, noncombat situations. Schweitzer cites a study by Sigmund Freud and his mentor, Josef Breuer, the first medical professionals to theorize that "hysteria" is connected to repressed experiences of abuse.
The play itself may be traumatizing for some, Schweitzer warns.
"The central scene is the killing," he says. "It was by far the hardest to write, and it caused me to designate the play as not for children. It's also a scene I still can't read easily, not because the wife kills her husband, but because of the verbal and physical abuse that leads up to the killing."
In addition to writing plays, Schweitzer is an attorney and an adjunct professor at the UW Law School. He knows the courtroom setting well. Likewise for the play's central roles: the judge, bailiff, accused, public defender and expert witnesses. In addition to learning about PTSD, the audience plays the role of the jury, determining innocence or guilt when analyzing Kelsey's actions.
A subtext of the play is that there are no easy answers.
"I've provided free tickets to professionals who work with victims of abuse," Schweitzer says. "I'm going to be very interested in both the verdicts and the discussions after each play."