Deployed soldier takes center stage at Murphy Fine Arts Center

The MSU Spokesman

Theresa Baker saw her deployed husband for the first time after not hearing from him in two months and threw herself into his arms. “Sam, it’s me, it’s me, Theresa! You’ve come home,” she says. “For how long?”

Theresa Baker, like tens of thousands of deployed soldiers’ partners, was overjoyed to see and touch her spouse for the first time in so long, but her joy was short-lived. Was he really there and if he was, how was it possible?

Baker (Ariel Lindo) stars in “Flat Sam,” a new play running in Morgan State’s Murphy Fine Arts Center November 7-17. This story of a wife who copes with her loneliness by forging a relationship with a life-sized picture of her deployed husband was inspired by Katie Zezima’s 2006 New York Times article “When Soldiers Go to War, Flat Daddies Hold Their Place at Home.”

Written by Antoinette Nwandu and directed by Morgan theater professor Deletta Gillespie, “Flat Sam” is a new look at deployed soldiers and their families.

A “Flat Daddy” or “Flat Mommy” is a life-sized cutout of a deployed family member who is in the armed forces. This life-sized cutout is then given to the family so that the soldier can be “included” in every family affair that they couldn’t physically be around for.

The “Flat Daddy” concept has been used by military families since at least 2003, when Cindy Sorenson ordered an oversized photo of her former husband, Captain Dave Bruschwein, who was stationed in Iraq at the time.

A military mom or dad who has a young child can keep a flat daddy or flat mommy to help make sure that when their soldier does come home, the child will know who he or she is. Because of the flat daddy, the deployed soldier would no longer be a stranger to the child. The concept seems to have a more prominent effect on children than on adults.

“It’s a good concept, but nothing can replace the real thing,” says Lindo about the “Flat Daddy” concept. “Sometimes you want to be hugged or kissed by something real.”

Angela Williams, a military wife from Anchorage, Alaska, told The New York Times in 2003 that she kept her flat husband in her bedroom closet. She occasionally took him out to remind herself that he is, in fact, real or to show him off to her friends and family.

Gillespie chose this play in honor of Veteran’s Day. Her first encounter with it was at the WordBridge Playwright Festival, a script development workshop, where she was an actress in the play.

She really appreciates the way “all the stories intertwine and how everybody’s story adds to the overall story.” It’s almost as if they are all feeding off of one another. Each individual character has a story to tell, but in the end everyone’s story combines to produce one conjunctive ending.

This story is a “tearjerker” and “the way that the playwright told it was masterful,” says Gillespie.

At a rehearsal, Gillespie directs a scene: When Baker saw her husband, Sam, for the first time in months, her facial expressions showed surprise, shock and joy. She was so happy to see him that she could barely get her words out, but she got distracted and when she turned back he was gone. How could he be there one minute and be gone the next? It was like losing him all over again.

The director and the writer agree that “Flat Sam” is an example of “spiritual realism” because the story straddles two worlds. It’s hard for the viewer to determine what’s reality and what’s fantasy.

It’s not easy for these families to be apart from each other for long periods of time, Gillespie says. A lot of people assume that it isn’t that hard or that the loneliness and pain fades with time, but that’s not always the case.

Gillespie hopes that, after watching the play, the audience will realize “the sacrifices that men and women in uniform make every day.”

Performances: Friday, Nov 15 (7:30 p.m.), Saturday, Nov 16 (2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.), Sunday, Nov 17 (3 p.m.). Tickets: Murphy Fine Arts

Video: Jan Short