'Sand Storm' 10 stories on the realities of war

If you stumbled across “The Sand Storm” on TV, you’d probably change the channel.

Why? For the same reason you stop watching the news when the subject turns to Iraq or the latest on Hurricane Katrina. We all know what’s coming: roadside bombs, insurgents, broken families, flooded homes, looting. It’s just so much easier to watch “House” or “The Apprentice.”

But some stories can’t be sidelined, and “The Sand Storm,” an hour-long series of 10 monologues written by former Marine Cpl. Sean Huze, is an artful and emotional reminder of the things we just don’t want to talk about anymore.

“What we can’t allow to happen is for Iraq to become a forgotten war,” Huze said in a telephone interview. “I hope the people who see ‘The Sand Storm’ feel more connected because we are responsible.”

Huze, who joined the Marines in a fit of patriotism on Sept. 12, 2001, and whose battalion was in the first wave of troops sent in to Iraq, was encouraged to write the play by a former acting coach.

“It was easier to write about [my experiences] from the point of view of a character,” Huze said, adding that he didn’t see the stories as being unique to 10 individuals but rather as 10 different personalities manifested by one person.

Told by military men of various ranks, the monologues give a glimpse into the realities of the war in Iraq — from the excitement of getting letters from home to the despair of watching people die. And the occasional interaction between the characters and the narration of the fallen Marine, a character Huze uses to depict the voices of the dead, keeps the play moving smoothly.

The stage is spare, with two benches, and set at an angle, bringing the characters closer to the audience. The props are minimal but suggestive. A medic describing his experience clings to a beer bottle as he jerkily talks about treating the wounded. And almost every character smokes, a habit that Huze picked up while in Iraq. “I figured I could die any moment so why not smoke?” he said.

The characters are all men, a fact that Huze points out is an accurate depiction of the front-line Marine infantry units, where women are not allowed to serve, and from a variety of backgrounds: a young Hispanic father from the rougher neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a platoon commander straight out of officer training and even a claustrophobic, greasy sergeant, placed there as a reminder that the army attracts all kinds. In many ways, the ragtag collection of men depicted in “The Sand Storm” is as much a microcosm of society as the military.

The stories however, all circle around the same themes: remorse, guilt, anger and frustration. In almost every monologue, the characters confront gruesome battle scenes.

In one, Pfc. Kyle Weems is sent out to get a body count and stumbles over a severed foot. For no logical reason, he becomes fixated on returning the foot to its owner. It isn’t until his commanding officer arrives and “slaps the piss” out him that he wakes up to realize how crazy the whole idea is.

Walking out of the theater, you’re left feeling a bit like Weems, as if you just stumbled over something awful that doesn’t make sense. Overall, “The Sand Storm” is a play for hawks and doves, Republicans and Democrats, warriors and civilians. Expect to find yourself wincing a bit over the extreme sincerity and simplicity of the whole thing — this is Huze’s first play and he leaves little to the imagination — but don’t let a little embarrassment keep you away.

“The Sand Storm: Stories From the Front” will be playing at MetroStage in Alexandria through Sept. 25. If you’re a member of Congress, you can probably get a free ticket, but so far those who have been invited — Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) — haven’t shown.