For most Americans, the Iraq War ended in 2011, when the United States withdrew its last combat troops. But Iraq’s re-emergence as a battlefront is raising the specter of perpetual war, a theme explored by the New Repertory Theater. Its new play, "Pattern of Life," examines the guilt and moral ambiguities facing a drone pilot who wages combat thousands of miles away through a joystick.
Lewis Wheeler plays the slowly unraveling Carlo, stationed in the Nevada desert in an air-conditioned trailer, controlling aircraft in the Middle East. After a drone kills a Pakistani boy, Carlo starts sharing dreams with a mourning villager, Rahmat (played by Nael Nacer), in which they debate revenge and justice.
To channel the psyche of a drone pilot, playwright Walt McGough interviewed one and found the stories of others online. Wheeler learned that their work is intense and isolating.
"They’re not with the sense of community and brotherhood that a lot of people have when they’re in combat situations," he said. "And also with their lives not being at risk, they fly their missions, do what they do—they’ll leave, drive 20 minutes and be home with their families."
Wheeler’s own family was on his mind while preparing for role. His cousin, an Air Force pilot who was like an older brother to him, died in a mid-air crash shortly after the Gulf War ended.
"Growing up with my cousin, and sort of all those feelings of family and then loss, figure into this, because it’s the sort of fragile nature of life."
"Pattern of Life” takes place in "the present; right now, this second," as McGough orients the audience in the program. Portraying today’s warfare on stage is challenging, Wheeler said.
"It’s hard because it is very fresh for people," he said, "but I think it makes it compelling because it’s what’s happening right now."
See "Pattern of Life" at the New Repertory Theater through June 29.