The Body of An American

The Body of An American

January 7 - January 31

By Dan O'Brien
Directed by Jo Bonney

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff

Chuck MacNaughton, Digital Media Manager

By Sean Byrne, Marketing Apprentice

Chuck MacNaughton, Boot Camp (1984)

Chuck MacNaughton, Boot Camp (1984)

Tell us a little about yourself – and your service in the Navy.

I grew up in western New York State and enlisted in the navy after a year of college. I basically enlisted for several reasons: To give back and be of service, and because I was at a crossroads and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life.

The Navy motto at the time was “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” Recruiters tend to fudge the truth when convincing kids to enlist, but in my case the Navy did end up being an adventure. I got to travel to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Arctic and the Middle East, including port calls in Norway, France, Italy, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Spain, Monaco and an assortment of Caribbean islands.

My ship, the USS Hawes (FFG-53) was assigned convoy duty in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Earnest Will during the Iran-Iraq war, a couple of months after the USS Stark was struck and severely damaged by Iraqi Exocet missiles. The frigate community was fairly small and tight-knit, and we all knew someone on the Stark. Many of us knew one or more of the 37 men killed in that attack.

USS Hawes (FFG-53) leads a convoy through the Persian Gulf, 1987.

USS Hawes (FFG-53) leads a convoy through the Persian Gulf, 1987.

We up ended up escorting oil and natural gas tankers through the Persian Gulf for about four months of 12-18 hour workdays, including weekends. It was stressful because the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were attacking ships indiscriminately in the gulf as well as laying mines in the shipping lanes, and our ostensible allies, the Iraqis, were often less than careful in choosing their targets, as evidenced by the attack on the USS Stark. 

Do you have a story that still sticks with you from your time in the service?

I tend to think visually, and I do have a couple distinct memories that stick with me after all these years. One is seeing an Iranian oil platform burning at night after the U.S. Navy shelled it in retaliation for the Iranians having attacked the oil tanker MV Sea Isle City with a silkworm missile as it loaded crude oil off the coast of Kuwait. It was visually stunning because of the sheer ferocity of the flames, reaching several hundred feet into the night sky. Another memory is from the Gulf of Oman, where we would loiter after escorting loaded tankers from Kuwait. I had the midwatch (midnight to 6am) and I went topside to watch the sun rise while waiting for breakfast to be served. The water was incredibly calm, like glass, and out of the rising sun I could see these strange reflections on the water that grew more numerous as they approached our ships. These reflections finally resolved into a vast pride of porpoises that extended for a couple thousand yards in any direction as they passed by, leaping from the water. It was a really joyous and remarkable thing to see, so close to a war zone. There are a thousand other memories, as well, but these two I remember most clearly.

For Body of an American, Hartford Stage has been reaching out to veterans organizations, how do you feel about this and why do you think the play will appeal/ impact them?

I think Dan O’Brien’s play gives voice to experiences that want to remain silent but cannot. It’s an intimate portrait of two men struggling with what thousands of people are actually struggling with right now. It’s important that we recognize what these men and women have gone through. Politically, I think it’s important to remember the consequences of our choices when electing our representatives or in clamoring for war, vengeance, justice, whatever. Most of us in this country are not veterans and fewer still are combat veterans. Aside from those few, we have no personal, visceral experience with war or major physical or psychological trauma. That’s a good thing, but we need to be able to empathize with those who have that experience or that trauma, whether they are veterans, reporters or innocent civilians.

What does it mean to you, being a veteran?

Honestly, not a lot. I have more gratitude for the men I served alongside, for other friends or family members who served. I am glad I served, but don’t hold myself in any special esteem. I don’t seek out free meals on Veterans Day or ask for special recognition. I’d be content if we as a nation stop sending young people to fight and die for questionable causes.

Tell us about your favorite show at Hartford Stage and why.

Timberly Canale and Mikhail Baryshnikov in Man in a Case. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Timberly Canale and Mikhail Baryshnikov in Man in a Case. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

It’s a tie. I absolutely loved Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes, which ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize. It was a really intimate, honest play, and the main character was a US Marine combat veteran whose mother struggled with addiction. It really spoke to me on several levels. The other play was Man in a Case, which was an adaptation of a Chekhov short story by Big Dance Theater and featured Mikhail Baryshnikov. I found it to be beautiful and sad, the way the protagonist lived his life—or perhaps more accurately—didn’t live his life. It was a great allegory of what we lose when we are afraid to extend ourselves in life, both personally and professionally.

How do you manage to keep all of our digital media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, website, surveys, online ads, photo archive – to name a few) so lively and active, all at once?

Primarily by remembering what makes theatre such a powerful art form: collaboration. Nothing I do is done in a vacuum, and we work as collaboratively in marketing as we do in production. We solicit ideas and photos from other departments, and give our fans behind-the-scenes glimpses of theatre life with candid photos on Instagram, set and costume design features on Facebook. Also, in recognizing the amazing work our Development and Education departments are doing to respectively make sure we can continue to bring great art to our stage and to foster the next generation of theatregoers and theatre artists. Another thing we use social media for is community outreach. Hartford is a great city for the arts, and we like to promote what our sister organizations are doing at Wadsworth, the Mark Twain House and all the other great cultural attractions we have here.

You’re normally the guy typing all these up and remaining behind the ‘curtain,’ as it were. How does it feel to share your story?

A little uncomfortable!

Do you have other talents or passions outside of working in theatre?

I like to do woodworking. I also enjoy gardening very much. Both are solitary and allow contemplation, which I think is important sometimes. I guess both are a form of meditation for me. My wife and I also do a fair amount of hiking, especially in the fall and winter.

What is your personal motto in life?

It’s a quote from a Bruce Cockburn song: “You’ve got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.” Appropriate for this play, perhaps, because Bruce, like Paul Watson, is a Canadian storyteller of sorts.