Jericho is a poignant and human portrayal of the aftermath of one of our nation’s greatest tragedies, 9/11.
Beth has lost her husband in the World Trade Center and Josh has lost his sense of security. Using humor to bring a human touch to the topic, Jack Canfora parallels characters Beth and Josh and studies the aftermath when extraordinary events occur in ordinary lives. The play is not only about these two characters, but also about what happened to America and how America has been unquestionably affected.
We asked 3 national and local leaders to present their thoughts on the play and discuss the questions:
How has America changed since September 11th?
Jack Canfora is a playwright, actor, and teacher. His plays, including Jericho, Place Setting, and Poetic License, have been produced around the country.
One of irony’s great virtues, of course, is that it keeps things at arm’s length. But it’s tough to build anything from a distance. And, after making an ironic view of the world my default setting for so long, I found it hard to filter my experiences through any other lens. I still do.
Nothing points out the limited tensile strength of irony as a worldview better than a capital “T” Tragedy. In the time immediately following 9/11, some pundits predicted the Death of Irony. That struck me, even in that febrile autumn of 2001, in which we hoarded duct tape and cable news rumors with equal eagerness, as silly. Irony’s way more resilient than that, and few people I knew seriously thought it was ever in grave danger.
But the problem – a problem 9/11 made piercingly clear – is that not everything should be viewed through that prism. And when true bloody, violent heartbreak slashes through a community, what’s needed is an affirmation of community itself, a sense of belonging to something larger than you or even your politics or tastes; what’s required is the consolation that comes from recognizing yourself and your peers as a link in a long chain of cultural continuity too substantial to be sawed off by a few calculated acts of cruelty. In such moments, ironic detachment and glibness have no warrant. Indeed, the facile put down and the world-weary shrug undermine the whole notion of community.
So maybe it’s my maturity’s sluggish metabolism, or coming of age in the Age of Reagan, or the fallout of 9/11 (I suspect an amalgam of all three), but a few years ago, I became increasingly aware of, for lack of less pompous sounding term, a fairly severe sense of spiritual dislocation. Perhaps this was true just for me, but I suspected not. And the more I cast about, the more I saw a lot of what was happening around me as varied responses to that sense of dislocation. The need for belief and community – a belief in something, a community wherever you could reasonably find it—started to assert itself. And, if the newfound beliefs and communities necessitated a hardening of positions and a drawing of lines with stark and strident colors, then so be it. In fact, in some ways, all the better.
Jericho has characters that have been affected by 9/11. It has characters touched by the strictures and solaces of fundamental religion and the conflict in the Middle East, but I would submit the play is not about those events and topics per se. I, at my most delusional, do not for an instant think I could offer anything prescriptive on those issues. I chose to write about them, or more accurately (if perhaps more preciously) they presented themselves to me in my writing because they offered the straightest path to the question that impelled me to write the play. How do people who’ve spent their lives suspicious of sincerity and comity, in fact living much of their lives in an environment toxic to them, find those things?
Judge Charles Williams was appointed by Governor Lawton Chiles as a Circuit Judge for the Twelfth Judicial Court in November of 1997. He has been awarded the Community Service Award from the Manatee Bar Association, the Manatee County NAACP-Public Service Award, and the 15th Annual Edgar H. Price, Jr. Humanitarian Award.
The trauma of 9/11 is so etched in to our DNA now that we have changed fundamentally as a nation and a people. Terror came home to us in a way that was different than other incidents of mass violence, Oklahoma City for example. The difference is we were attacked as a nation from the outside. These acts awakened us from our slumber and our feeling of security and distance from world events. It unified us in a way that can only be recalled by those who were around when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The feeling of terror and confusion, soon gave way to anger and resolve. As a nation we became caught up in a unifying fever that exposed both the good and the bad in this country. The good being the sense of unity and cooperation of all Americans. It is doubtful that this country was as ever united as we were the days and weeks after 9/11 since World War II. The feeling of American spirit and the can do attitude that has been a hallmark of this country was never better displayed than in those days after this terrible event. There was of course some ugliness. The fervent fever of some Americans to denounce all Muslims and the isolated incidents of physical violence against them was not typical of what defines this quilt of America. The acceptance of all faiths, colors and religions under one flag is what makes this country so unique and a beacon of freedom and hope. The erosion of certain Constitutional rights as a result of the events of September 11th caused some concern for legal scholars. The loss of some liberty and freedoms is a balance the country has always had to make to secure the safety of its people. The question is, was it all necessary? These and other issues are at the forefront of the discussion when we consider how the post-traumatic stress of 9-11 may have shaped who we are today as a country.
Paul White, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice. He sees children as well as adults. Also, he has taught at Webster University in their Masters Degree program for Counseling.
And The Walls Come Tumbling Down
This play explores the depth of human experience from the varied perspectives of psychology, history, culture, social influences, religious belief or the lack of it, prejudice and fear, and the persistent impact of loss and death. We were all touched by the senseless deaths of those trapped in the World Trade Center. In our disbelief that such a tragedy could ever occur, we hold on to memories as if they are still alive to avoid the pain and suffering. To contend with the guilt of survival, we look for ways to serve society in the hopes that our contributions prove we are worth.
Jericho begins in the office of a Psychotherapist. The main character has lost her husband in the World Trade Center disaster. There is no time table for the working through of grief. Self-blame and guilt can complicate the healing process. The two argued before parting that fateful day and so she struggles with survivor’s guilt. Her relentless insistence on holding onto to her loss is perhaps the self-punishment of this unresolved dynamic. Her attempts at reclaiming her life come in the tentative initiative dating a new person. Lives intertwined by this mammoth tragedy links her to the boyfriend’s family who have also been touched by this event. Once again survivor’s guilt raises its ugly head to disrupt these relationships as well. The Thanksgiving Holiday is that time for families to join together to achieve closeness and connectedness. Despite valiant efforts and cultural sanctions, families can deteriorate into the social norms and dysfunctional pattern that characterize a family’s structure. The eventual authenticity brings out the true nature of the hidden dimension and all the walls come crumbling down.
There is a Jewish cultural norm that reflects most other groups as well that draws its membership into a clan that protects its own and fears the influence of others. Prejudice breeds exclusiveness and rejection of outsiders. There are conversations in this play that are only supposed to take place in the privacy and coveted self-pronouncements of a Jewish interchange. “Stick with your own kind” mentality prevails in many cultural or racial groups, yet as we become a cultural melting pot, these distinctions become less important. The brother who goes to Israel discovers he can bridge these artificial distances and serve as the connection to Beth’s heritage. The greeting and the parting represents completeness and harmony. The walls come down and we feel a little less alone.
ADD YOUR VOICE TO THE DISCUSSION
Post comments below or submit a formal post to Catherine Randazzo at email@example.com. All comments are subject to the editorial discretion of Florida Studio Theatre. Material will only be included that contributes to the discussion.
Jericho is sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee
“We are proud to be a Co-Producer of Jericho by Jack Canfora. The play deals with the process of grief, forgiveness and healing. Its themes of community and transcendence speak to the needs of our country specifically, of all people in general, in a post September 11th society.”
3 thoughts on “Jericho”
My husband and I related to the emotional impact of 911 on the characters. We attended a memorial in our Long Island town and felt the loss of so many local people.
The play was inciteful, incredibly sad in some moments, but at the same time very funny even though the topic is painful.
A terrific presentation of life after 9/11. I thought Josh’s wife stole the show. My contribution to the condition that have evolved since 9/11 is that we have become a country of individual wants and needs and have forgotten each other.
FORMAL POST SUBMITTED BY
FRED WURLITZER, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Allow me to be a devil’s advocate that Jericho is misleading. For purposes of being as brief as possible, I am only using one reference from Scientific American to support my arguments. “Does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Require Trauma?”
“In a 2002 study psychologist Roxane Cohen Silver of the University of California, Irvine, and her colleagues showed that about 12 percent of Americans suffered significant post-traumatic stress between nine and 23 days after the attacks . Six months later this number had declined to about 6 percent, suggesting that time often heals the psychic wounds.” ” Indeed, the overall picture following the 9/11 attacks was one of psychological resilience, not breakdown.” (IBID, from the SA reference cited initially)
In the play Jericho we see PTSD persisting many years after 911. One victim is the widow Beth who feels guilt for seemingly endless years because she had told her husband the day of 911 that she wanted a divorce. Actually Beth shows more symptoms of psychosis than she does of PTSD and I would argue Beth was psychotic and, thereby, the play is confusing her psychotic symptoms with those of PTSD. The other victim is Josh who mindless years later is still suffering stress because he escaped from a 911 tower, possibly the same one as where the husband of Beth was killed. It is even possible that Josh ran into or pushed aside Beth’s husband as he escaped, although this possibility is not confirmed (even if it is implied) in the play.
The play is misleading in that it suggests PTSD usually last years. This is rarely the case (see attached SA reference). More support for this statement can be found in the medical literature. The play is also misleading in that symptoms are simplified and that Beth’s symptoms were primarily those of psychosis, not PTSD. Some viewers might even conclude Josh was endlessly and inanely in reality a Zealot rather than a sufferer of PTSD.
Besides questioning the legitimacy and longevity of symptoms of the Jericho victims, can anyone for example clearly and concisely show that the classical three sets of symptoms of PTSD were present in Jericho’s victims? The play might have been improved if these symptoms could have been shown to be present more clearly or if at least the psychotherapist had commented that the longevity and character of Beth and Josh’s symptoms and their incompleteness were relatively unusual for classical PTSD. Certainly, the psychotherapist might have suggested Beth was psychotic or bipolar although he repeatedly said she was not crazy. I disagree with that assessment. At a minimum the psychotherapist might have explained more convincingly to the audience why Beth was not psychotic. Her hallucinations, difficulty with social interactions as well as troubles with daily activities were more symptomatic of a psychosis than PTSD. As for Josh, he arguably was really just another Jewish Zealot.
“PTSD is now officially characterized by three sets of symptoms. These include reliving the event through intrusive memories and dreams; emotional avoidance such as steering clear of reminders of the trauma and detaching emotionally from others; and hyperarousal that causes sufferers to startle easily, sleep poorly and be on alert for potential threats. These problems must last for a month or more for someone to qualify for the PTSD label.” (IBID from the SA reference cited initially)
Now having played the role of Devil’s Advocate, allow me to say the play does have considerable insight into PTSD. It is also well written and enjoyable. I admit to being purposely naughty by being picky although I am still not convinced Josh was not still another tiresome Zealot. I welcome challenges to what I have written.
Fred W, M.D., F.A.C.S.
The full transcription of the Scientific American article follows.
Does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Require Trauma?
Does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Require Trauma?
Revisiting the role of trauma in PTSD
By Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz | Monday, May 7, 2012 | 9
Stress is an inevitable part of our life. Yet whether our daily hassles include the incessant gripes of a nasty boss or another hectoring letter from the Internal Revenue Service, we usually find some way of contending with them. In rare instances, though, terrifying events can overwhelm our coping capacities, leaving us psychologically paralyzed. In such cases, we may be at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is an anxiety disorder marked by flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms that impair everyday functioning. The disorder is widespread. At least in the U.S., it is thought to affect about 8 percent of individuals at some point during their lifetime.
Although PTSD is one of the best known of all psychological disorders, it is also one of the most controversial. The intense psychological pain, even agony, experienced by sufferers is undeniably real. Yet the conditions under which PTSD occurs—in particular, the centrality of trauma as a trigger—have come increasingly into question. Mental health professionals have traditionally considered PTSD a typical, at times even ubiquitous, response to trauma. They have also regarded the disorder as distinct from other forms of anxiety spawned by life’s slings and arrows. Still, recent data fuel doubts about both assumptions.
PTSD did not formally enter psychiatry’s diagnostic bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), until 1980. Yet accounts of syndromes that mirror PTSD date back to Sumeria and ancient Greece, including a mention in Homer’s Iliad. In the American Civil War, veterans suffered from “soldier’s heart”; in World War I, it was called “shell shock,” and in World War II, the term used was “combat fatigue.” In the 1970s some soldiers returning from the war in Southeast Asia received informal diagnoses of “post-Vietnam syndrome,” which also bore a striking resemblance to the DSM’s description of PTSD.
According to the DSM, PTSD occurs in the wake of “trauma”—defined by the manual as an extremely frightening event in which a person experiences or witnesses “actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.” (Less violent experiences such as serious relationship or financial problems do not count.) The most frequent triggers of PTSD thus include wartime combat, rape, murder, car accidents, fires, and natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods and earthquakes.
PTSD is now officially characterized by three sets of symptoms. These include reliving the event through intrusive memories and dreams; emotional avoidance such as steering clear of reminders of the trauma and detaching emotionally from others; and hyperarousal that causes sufferers to startle easily, sleep poorly and be on alert for potential threats. These problems must last for a month or more for someone to qualify for the PTSD label.
Immune to Trauma?
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many mental health experts confidently predicted an epidemic of PTSD, especially in the most severely affected locations: New York City and Washington, D.C. The true state of affairs was much more nuanced, however. It is certainly true that many Americans experienced at least a few post-traumatic symptoms following the attacks, but most of the afflicted recovered rapidly. In a 2002 study psychologist Roxane Cohen Silver of the University of California, Irvine, and her colleagues showed that about 12 percent of Americans suffered significant post-traumatic stress between nine and 23 days after the attacks. Six months later this number had declined to about 6 percent, suggesting that time often heals the psychic wounds.
Work by epidemiologist Sandro Galea of the New York Academy of Medicine and his colleagues, also published in 2002, revealed that five to eight weeks after 9/11, 7.5 percent of New Yorkers met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD; among those who lived south of Canal Street—that is, close to the World Trade Center—the rates were 20 percent. Consistent with other data, these findings suggest that physical proximity is often a potent predictor of stress responses. Yet they also indicate that only a minority develops significant post-traumatic pathology in the aftermath of devastating stressors. Indeed, the overall picture following the 9/11 attacks was one of psychological resilience, not breakdown.
More broadly, research that psychologist George A. Bonanno of Columbia University and his colleagues reviewed in 2011 suggests that only about 5 to 10 percent of people typically develop PTSD after experiencing traumatic life events. And although the rates rise when stressors are severe or prolonged, they hardly ever exceed 30 percent. The rare exceptions may occur with repeated trauma. In another 2011 study psychologist Stevan Hobfoll of Rush Medical College and his colleagues reported that of 763 Palestinians living in areas rife with political violence, more than 70 percent exhibited moderate PTSD symptoms and about 26 percent had severe symptoms.
The finding that PTSD is not an inevitable sequela to trauma has spurred investigators to pursue factors that forecast relative immunity to the condition. Across studies, higher income and education, strong social ties and male gender tend to confer heightened resilience, although these predictors are far from perfect. People who usually experience very little anxiety, guilt, anger, alienation and other unpleasant emotions—that is, who have low “negative emotionality”—are also less likely to suffer from PTSD following trauma. Thus, in ways that researchers do not yet understand, individual characteristics must combine with trauma to produce this illness.
Not only is trauma insufficient to trigger PTSD symptoms, it is also not necessary. Although by definition clinicians cannot diagnose PTSD in the absence of trauma, recent work suggests that the disorder’s telltale symptom pattern can emerge from stressors that do not involve bodily peril. In 2008 psychologist Gerald M. Rosen of the University of Washington and one of us (Lilienfeld) reviewed data demonstrating that significant PTSD symptoms can follow emotional upheavals resulting from divorce, significant employment difficulties or loss of a close friendship. In a 2005 study of 454 undergraduates, psychologist Sari Gold of Temple University and her colleagues revealed that students who had experienced nontraumatic stressors, such as serious illness in a loved one, divorce of their parents, relationship problems or imprisonment of someone close to them, reported even higher rates of PTSD symptoms than did students who had lived through bona fide trauma. Taken together, these findings call into question the long-standing belief that these symptoms are tied only to physical threat.
In light of these and other data, some authors have suggested that the PTSD diagnosis be extended to include anxiety reactions to events that are stressful but not terrifying. Yet such a change could lead to what Harvard University psychologist Richard J. McNally calls “criterion creep”—expanding the boundaries of the diagnosis beyond recognition. This and other controversies aside, recent results raise the possibility that PTSD is a less distinctive affliction than originally thought and that its symptoms may arise in response to a plethora of intense stressors that are part and parcel of the human condition.
This article was published in print as “When Coping Fails.”