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Playwright Walter Anderson Talks About
"The Trial Of Donna Caine"

By Charles Paolino, charlespaolino.com

originally published: 10/09/2018

Playwright Walter Anderson Talks About "The Trial Of Donna Caine"

The political climate in the United States—with its right and left, red and blue, conservative and liberal—prompts this question: Is reconciliation possible?

Walter Anderson’s play—“The Trial of Donna Caine”—beginning its world premiere on October 16 at the George Street Playhouse, will pose the same question about individual characters: However severe our differences, can we forgive each other and move on together toward some common good?

Anderson said in an interview that he was inspired to write this play by an event that occurred in 1956 at the Marine recruit facility at Parris Island, South Carolina.

In that incident, a respected drill instructor marched a platoon of underperforming recruits into Ribbon Creek, a swampy tidal stream, where six of the recruits wandered into deep water and drowned.

The drill instructor was subject to a court-martial and ultimately was busted to private but allowed to stay in the Corps; he was burdened with guilt over the deaths of the recruits for the rest of his life.



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The incident, which had received intense media coverage and resulted in permanent changes in Marine boot camp, fascinated Anderson, a former journalist, who served with the Corps in Vietnam.

“I spent two years studying Ribbon Creek,” he said. “I read the entire trial. I knew just about as much as you could know about it. I realized at the time that it was a great story.”

Playwright Walter Anderson Talks About "The Trial Of Donna Caine"Anderson said he put the topic aside for a few months but woke up at around 2 one morning wondering what would have happened if the circumstances of the case had been different:

“What if instead of six recruits drowned, there were five and three were women—and the drill instructor was a woman?”

Enter Staff Sgt. Donna Caine, the drill instructor, and several other Marine and civilian personalities who people Anderson’s fictional account. Caine led those recruits into the Tidal Creek—contrary to orders—because she thought they didn’t trust each other and believed the swamp experience would jar them into a new relationship.

Caine’s case has been moved from Navy jurisdiction to a federal court and two civilian lawyers—Emily Zola Ginsberg and the “radical” Vincent Stone—have taken agreed to defend her as a favor to a judge of their acquaintance.

The judge is a Marine veteran and the grandfather of one of the dead recruits, and—anticipating a whitewash by the Corps—he wants to know exactly what happened in Tidal Creek, Anderson’s invention.

Ginsberg and Stone have a big obstacle to overcome from the start: Caine says she was responsible for the deaths of the recruits, and she will plead guilty for the sake, as she sees it, of the Marine Corps and the families of the dead recruits.

What ensues is a drama also involving, in a complex web, Marine Colonel Sandra Eden, Sergeant Major Clayton Williams, Gunnery Sergeant Jake Walker, civilian prosecutor Roy Gill, and Federal Judge Olivia Easton. 

“We’re in a time of great polarization,” Anderson said, “and you won’t find greater polarization than exists between Donna and Emily and in the people around them. How can it be reconciled? Can it be reconciled?

“Donna and Emily cannot reconcile until they stop stereotyping or pigeonholing each other. Each believes initially that she understands the other, and she really does not. And once you vilify someone of a different point of view, you can’t communicate.

“You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Until they are able to be vulnerable with each other, they can’t reconcile.

“They are people from vastly different cultures. You don’t find out the similarity between them until the end of the play – through the characters themselves.”

Characters, in fact, are what matter most to Anderson as a playwright.

He said that when he first conceived of this play, his first step was not to concoct a plot, but to create characters. 

After that 2 a.m. wakeup call, he said, “I wrote long biographies of all nine of the characters. There are no small characters in this play. Every one is essential to understanding. I wrote out their biographies as though they existed, and I got to know them. The play evolved in that way.”

“The Trial of Donna Caine” is Anderson’s second play. His first was “Almost Home,” which deals with what happens when a soldier returns from military service in Vietnam. “Almost Home” was performed in 2014 at the Acorn Theater in Manhattan.

Anderson was a newspaper journalist and editor or “Parade” magazine and eventually chairman and CEO of Parade Publications.

He sees a parallel between his work in a newsroom, where “you smoked even if you didn’t smoke,” and the business of mounting a play.

“It’s the reason I became a playwright,’’ he said. “It’s like a city room— collaborative. You are all working toward the same goal. 

“I used to hate to leave the city room—I was afraid I’d miss something. My favorite night was election when we stayed up all night to gather the figures for the next day.

“Working with actors and directors you get that same collaborative feeling.”

That collaboration with respect to “The Trial of Donna Caine” is taking place at the temporary home of the George Street Playhouse on College Farm Road, off Route 1, in New Brunswick.

“The Trial of Donna Caine,” directed by George Street artistic director David Saint, opens the theater’s 2018-2019 season from October 16 through November 11.

To purchase tickets or for more information, visit the George Street Playhouse website at www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org, or call the box office at 732-246-7717. 





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Playwright Walter Anderson Talks About "The Trial Of Donna Caine"
​​​​​​​The political climate in the United States—with its right and left, red and blue, conservative and liberal—prompts this question: Is reconciliation possible?
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Upcoming Events

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(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC) presents Trojan Women, a multimedia and multilingual adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy reimagined for today’s turbulent times. Trojan Women  opens Friday November 2nd for an 11-show run that closes on Sunday November 18 at Merseles Studios, 339 Newark Avenue, Jersey City. Tickets are $25 ($15/ Student and Senior Discount – must show valid ID).


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Event calendar
Sunday, Oct 21, 2018


MUSIC

DiTrani Bros: Folk, Swing, Jazz, Ragtime!! @ Roxy and Dukes Roadhouse, Dunellen - 7:00pm

Jazz Guitarist Abe Ovadia @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Gypsy Jazz Brunch with Pyrenesia and Max Hansen Buffet @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

Dryden Ensemble: Bach Cantata Fest @ Miller Chapel (Princeton), Princeton - 3:00pm

Suzzanne Douglas @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 7:30pm


THEATRE

The Ghost Princess @ Pax Amicus Castle Theatre, Budd Lake - 2:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm

CDC Theatre presents A Few Good Men @ CDC Theatre, Cranford - 2:00pm

Wait Until Dark @ Somerset Valley Playhouse, Hillsborough - 8:00pm

World Premier of, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, A Horror of a Play @ Forum Theatre (Metuchen), Metuchen - 3:00pm

The Color Purple @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 1:30pm and 7:00pm

Almost, Maine @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 2:00pm

Black Tom Island @ The 1882 Carriage House, Liberty Hall Museum, Union - 3:00pm

*Uncle Vanya, Scenes from a Jersey Life in Four Acts @ Hudson Theatre Works, Weehawken - 7:00pm

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie @ Westfield Community Players, Westfield - 2:00pm







DANCE

DRACULA - THE ATLANTIC CITY BALLET @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 4:00pm


FILM

A conversation with John Cusack Following a screening of Say Anything @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:00pm


KIDS

Summit Farmers Market Pumpkin Painting @ Summit Farmers Market, Summit - 10:00am


POETRY

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival @ Victoria Theater @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 9:00am


MISC

HAUNTED ILLUSIONS LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 3:00pm

THE MAGIC OF BILL BLAGG LIVE! @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 2:00pm

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