Saratoga County

Eisenberg interprets the horrors of war

Jesse Eisenberg insists that the success of “The Social Network” hasn’t changed his life, and in som

Jesse Eisenberg insists that the success of “The Social Network” hasn’t changed his life, and in some ways he’s right. He’s still trouping around the country with Brian Doerries trying to help military servicemen and their families deal with the horrors of war.

Monday he was at the New York State Museum in Albany and then the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs performing dramatic readings by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles as part of the “Theater of War” event sponsored by Empire State College. The idea is to use theater, in this case a staged reading of portions of Sophocles’ “Ajax” and “Philoctetes,” to spark a conversation about what is generally referred to today as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s a wonderful way to do what I do, and that is to perform in front of a really unique audience, and really create a dialogue that is uniquely substantive,” said Eisenberg, who played Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” for which he earned an Oscar nomination last year. “Not having any personal experience with war, it’s very interesting for me through the confined context of the play to try and understand the situations that they went through, and that I can only imagine or hear other people talk about.”

“Theater of War Productions” was created in 2008 by Doerries and Phyllis Kaufman, and designed to be performed in front of military audiences. Many of the group’s performances are at military bases, hospitals and veteran shelters. Monday afternoon’s event at the State Museum attracted about 125 people.

“These plays hopefully facilitate a discussion that might not otherwise happen,” said Doerries, who generates a discussion with the audience after each performance. “The actors emote, and that brings emotion into the room, a room that maybe doesn’t warrant that kind of emotion. But that emotion allows people to more freely discuss their personal stories, and that’s why we perform the plays.”

That’s also why Sophocles, a general himself, wrote and produced the plays in front of military audiences 2,500 years ago.

“Essentially, it was to create a safe place for people to mourn their dead, to scream, to wail, to listen, to laugh, and come together as a community, and for the community to bear witness,” said Doerries. “That’s also why we’re doing it today.”

Eisenberg has been part of “Theater of War” for more than three years now. Also on the stage with him Monday were fellow actors Glenn Davis, John Doman and Chinasa Ogbuagu.

“Having people with name recognition like Jesse associated with our program is great, “ said Doerries, who has a group of over 100 actors he uses from time to time. “All of our actors are great, and some of them like Jesse are well-known. But he was doing this before the notoriety of ‘The Social Network.’ They all do it because they have a social conscience and they want to help.”

“I’ve been involved in the project for a number of years now, and the first one I did was for doctors, and the second one for military families at a base in San Diego,” said Eisenberg. “That Sophocles, an ancient Greek playwright, would have something important and relevant to say about today is so meaningful. The experiences of war transcend time, and people at these events say things that they never thought they would say.”

At the conclusion of Monday’s news conference following the afternoon performance, Eisenberg, now 28, confirmed that he is still the same person he was prior to “The Social Network.”

“Thanks a lot, but I have not changed,” he said matter-of-factly in response to the question regarding the movie’s success and how it’s changed his life. “Look at me. I’m still wearing the same outfit.”

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