Forty years ago, actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise directed the Vietnam war drama “Tracers” at Steppenwolf Theatre – 12 years before his Academy Award nomination for the “Forrest Gump” role of Lt. Dan Taylor. Sinise noted that with Vietnam veterans in his own family, “ … it was a personal mission for me to honor them … to let them, and all veterans, know that their service to our country was appreciated, and that their sacrifices would never be forgotten.” Now, his Gary Sinise Foundation presents the play “Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret” at Steppenwolf in Chicago.
Sinise’s friend, retired Lt. Col. Scott Mann, an Afghanistan combat veteran, has written the modern-day equivalent to “Tracers” with “Last Out.” The play is based on the stories and experiences of the men and women Mann served with. Mann states, “‘Last Out’ is a story never told from a voice never heard. A love letter to civilians to let them know the cost of modern war. A love letter to our Gold Star families, and certainly a love letter to our active duty members, our reserve, our National Guard and our veterans.” Mann began writing “Last Out” as a creative outlet to aid his own healing.
Mann served 23 years in the U.S. Army, with 18 of those in Special Forces as a Green Beret, and 10 years in Afghanistan, described as the longest war in American history, the “forgotten” war, with lessons Mann says, “weren’t learned in Vietnam.” In addition to his distinguished military career, Mann is the co-founder of The Heroes Journey, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “helping warriors find their voice and tell their story.”
“Last Out” has been performed since 2018, with a world premiere on Veterans Day in 2019; audience talk-backs stressed that the production must go on tour. What makes the production truly invigorating and unique is that the cast is composed of real-life combat veterans and military family members – providing a unique and true understanding along with an illustration of what went on.
“Last Out” is directed by Karl Bury; the cast features Bryan Bachman, Lenny Bruce, Heather Corrigan, Cooper Mann, Scott Mann, Daniel Rodriguez and Chris Vetzel.
The plot is an encompassing, powerful, realistic presentation of the true cost of war. Green Beret Danny Patton is fighting battles that range from tribal Afghanistan to his living room. His family, integrity and soul begin to be ripped apart, bringing to life the pain and heartache of those who served. All scenes take place in the afterlife, covering a back-and-forth time frame over 25 years (1989-2015).
“Last Out” follows the theatrical tradition of using storytelling to help – in this case, acceptance and integration back into society after the toll that war zones take (a disheartening and enraging America’s Warrior Partnership 2022 statistic states American ex-military are dying at a rate of 44 suicides/self-injuries per day). “Last Out” has been filmed as a documentary, and is the official 2022 selection of several film festivals.
Steppenwolf and the Gary Sinise Foundation are giving you two opportunities to experience a live performance of these heroes – sure to be emotive with no illusions. The production has mature content. This is your chance to understand what “thank you for your service” truly means.
• Regina Belt-Daniels long has been an admirer of Gary Sinise, going back to 1982 when she first saw him in “True West,” a production of Steppenwolf Theatre, which he co-founded. She applauds the work of his Gary Sinise Foundation to benefit veterans, first responders and military families.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret”
WHERE: Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago
WHEN: 7 p.m. Jan. 20 and 21
COST: $20 general public, $5 veterans, active military and military families
INFORMATION: www.steppenwolf.org, 312-335-1650