By Nadia Asencio
War shapes the narrative of a nation. The mythology associated with trauma and survival seeps into the psyche of a nation’s citizens. It sets the expectation for its future generations, especially for boys, that bravery and a willingness to serve are honorable traits. But what if your own identity and ambitions don’t coalesce with society’s norms? This is the theme of Juha Sorola’s “About Heroes,” as he recounts what it meant to grow up in a nation and a family whose expectations didn’t match his own, and how he was eventually led down a path of self-discovery and liberation.
Our protagonist came from a long line of military heroes; his father’s and grandfathers’ examples of manhood were romanticized throughout his childhood. But it didn’t take long for young Juha to realize that he wasn’t cut from the same cloth as his forebears. He preferred the bravery of Pippi Longstocking, which provoked bullies. Both his grandfathers had fought valiantly but returned home as broken men. His father was not changed as greatly, but the trauma cost him his marriage. The “hero” status seemed like small recompense for the cost of service, causing young Juha to reject the military service that loomed in his future.
During the 80s, a maturing Juha came to terms with his sexuality, but soon discovered that the gay community had its own self-imposed expectations. Although he adjusted his behavior accordingly, again, Juha was expected to play a role socially predetermined for him.
Searching for answers, Juha eventually found them in the story of Ville, his biological maternal grandfather, a man who fought communists while secretly harboring communist sympathies himself. This was a man Juha never met, but his harrowing story offered Juha comfort and insight into his own dilemma. Mr. Sorola takes the audience through Ville’s experiences using a series of journal entries that express the humor and strife of a man living a double life, and the price he finally had to pay for freedom.
The setting is simple – a chair, a journal and a white screen showing family photographs – but other than that, this is a no-frills piece, emphasizing the solitude of introspection, and allowing Mr. Sorola’s skillful narrative to take center stage.
“About Heroes” isn’t just about what it means to be a man, although that is the question Mr. Sorola struggles to answer. In a broader sense, the show encapsulates the internal and external challenges we all must face as we forge our own identities, often against difficult odds. It’s no wonder “About Heroes” won the Best Festival Debut Award in 2016; the narrative is profound and expertly wrought. Do not miss this.
Written and Performed by Juha Sorola
Oct. 7 at 7:30pm, Nov. 5 at 6pm
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
NADIA ASENCIO is a first-generation Cuban American playwright, artist, and founder of The Scarlet Harlot Theatre Co. which chronicles the journeys of Hispanic and Black women. Her work can be found at www.nadiaasencio.com. She resides in NYC.