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The Black Album

Photo by Lew Abramson“You’ll never see your husband alive again, bitch.” Sean Huze remembers this as the phone call, made anonymously to his wife, that made him move her and his infant son from North Carolina to California. Maybe it was just another of the crank messages the family had been receiving, but he was taking no chances. Huze himself would have to stay behind and serve out his hitch at Camp Lejeune in the rather precarious position of an active-duty Marine who was openly speaking out against the war in Iraq — not just on Pacifica Radio and Air America, but also as a playwright who was putting his views onstage. “I had a staff sergeant,” Huze says, “who walked up to me and said he was going to make me ‘disappear.’ I told him to quit being a bitch and do what he had to do: ‘I’m standing right here — why wait?’ ” It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Huze had first come to Los Angeles in 1999, fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming an actor; while packing for the move from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he discovered an entry in his childhood journal in which a 12-year-old Sean described what his Hollywood apartment would look like. And then he was here, renting a pad on Franklin Place, leasing an SUV and getting parts on TV and in low-budget films. When Huze returned home from an all-night poker party on the morning of September 11, 2001, he found his answering machine filled with his friends’ pleas to turn on the television. The next day he went to the military recruitment center on Sunset and La Brea and enlisted in the Marines, choosing the infantry. He was 26. “I was enraged,” he says one afternoon at the Elephant Asylum Theater, where he’s performing in his play, The Sand Storm: Stories From the Front. “The life I had always known had been shattered and I wanted to be empowered and to be sure we got it back. I wanted to get my hands dirty and I did.” Huze is a wiry, outgoing man whose sparkling eyes, backyard-BBQ friendliness and self-proclaimed left-wing ideology may clash with civilian notions of leathernecks. “I chose the Marine Corps because of its reputation,” Huze says. “I wanted the challenge. What had our generation prior to [9/11] really experienced, what did we know? We were the product of a couple of consecutive Me Generations.” As part of a light-armored reconnaissance battalion assembled in Kuwait, Huze helped support the Marines’ punch into Iraq by driving a heavily armed anti-tank vehicle. He quickly saw action — and several of his comrades killed, along with a frightening number of civilians in places like Nasiriyah and Tikrit. Sent home after two months of combat and having sustained a head injury, Huze drifted into the routine of stateside service at Lejeune. Then, in July 2003, President Bush issued his “Bring ’em on” taunt to Iraqi insurgents. “It infuriated me,” Huze says. “He said this when men I knew were over there. It was the first time I started looking at the administration critically — if [Bush] could be wrong about that, he could be wrong about the weapons of mass destruction.” Slowly, with encouragement from an acting teacher and a fellow ex-Marine actor named Tom Vick, Huze began writing down his experiences, as well as synthesizing those of his comrades, eventually shaping them into an evening of theater that premiered last year at the Gardner Stage. The latest rendering is just under an hour’s worth of 10 monologues delivered by Marine and Navy characters trying to articulate the chaotic violence they witnessed — and inflicted — in Iraq. Perhaps the most disturbing moment comes when one Marine describes his utter satisfaction of eating in front of a dying Iraqi soldier who is begging the American to shoot him. Tom Vick, a Gulf War vet, is in the ensemble and Huze himself appears in a bittersweet recollection of protecting some civilians and their grain silos. Joel Daavid’s set is a compact but troubling assemblage of empty window frames and rubble. The show’s scenes, directed by Dave Fofi, himself a Navy vet, are take-it-or-leave-it stories that are not so much meditations as raw transcripts of war. “It’s not a narrative story, something that’s pasted together neatly,” Huze says. “Our memories don’t give you a seamless timeline, they come in snapshots. These are snapshots of the war.” Some are literally so — often-gory photographs are projected during blackouts. To theatergoers who find its depictions of combat mayhem too graphic, Huze says, “The play is about the experience of war and to give an audience the perspective of what it’s like to be there. I hope people are uncomfortable when they see this because they should be.” “I think you’re the kind of smart cocksucker who writes a tear-jerk play against the Marine Corps and then turns around and smuggles heroin,” a character memorably says in Dog Soldiers, novelist Robert Stone’s eulogy to the 1960s. The Sand Storm is no tear-jerk play, however, and neither is it a protest against the Marines. Nor is it a noisy agitprop piece like Tim Robbins’ Embedded, because Huze did not want to preach to his audience. Still, the fact that Huze mounted his play while still in uniform caught the attention of the brass. “The charge that kept bouncing around was Article 134 — ‘conduct unbecoming,’ ” Huze says. “There were some people with stars on their collars [who had said] that I should be charged, but my company commander and first sergeant were outstanding when it came to taking my back. I don’t mean to give the impression that they agreed with me but they supported my right to say what I was saying.” Huze is a member of Operation Truth, an Iraq and Afghan war vets’ organization that, while not calling for an end to U.S. actions in those countries, urges the White House to pay more attention to soldiers’ needs. He also volunteered for John Kerry’s presidential campaign and used his play as a fund-raising vehicle. Yet it was during this campaign that Huze got a friendly-fire lesson in politics. After he sent an angry, anti-Bush complaint to lefty filmmaker Michael Moore, he was asked by Moore’s people for permission to publish it in a book of correspondence from GIs, Will They Ever Trust Us Again? Huze says he was invited to have the letter printed anonymously, but declined the option. He did accept an offer to submit an edited version of his missive to avoid getting in trouble — the only problem was that somewhere down the line his newer version didn’t make it into Moore’s book. Of all his activities, the Moore letter came closest to getting Huze in trouble. Among other things, Huze’s statement, which appears on many Internet sites, says, “Bush is a lying, manipulative motherfucker who cares nothing for the lives of those of us who serve in uniform. Hell, other than playing dress-up on aircraft carriers, what would he know about serving this nation in uniform?” That’s when the death threats started coming. “Michael Moore fucked up,” Huze says simply, adding that he has given Moore a pass on the incident and invited him to see The Sand Storm — an invitation that the Flint, Michigan, auteur has so far not accepted. Neither, for that matter, has anyone from the office of Huze’s congresswoman, Diane Watson, nor any other politician from his party. Besides feeling cold-shouldered by “spineless” Democrats, Huze also despairs of what he sees as blunders made by the civilian-led peace movement, including a recent demonstration by Military Families Speak Out outside Fort Bragg. “It’s time for us on the left to grow the fuck up,” he says. “I sometimes get more frustrated with my own side because I hate losing and I think a lot of people on the left find there’s dignity fighting the good fight and losing.” Huze says his next play will be about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the partisan hit group that attacked John Kerry’s war record, though he isn’t through yet with The Sand Storm. He says he wants to tour the monologues in “red” states and eventually bring it to New York. “I love the Marine Corps and I love the guys that I got to serve with,” he says. “When I got out I called up my Dad and he said, ‘Great, now you can really start serving your country.’ And I am — maybe more so than when I was in uniform.” THE SAND STORM: Stories From the Front | BY SEAN HUZE | Mark Seabrooks & Sean Huze, in association with Operation Truth, at the Elephant Asylum Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood | Through May 7 | (323) 960-4410


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