On the day of his new play's premiere last week, Howard Craft reflected on the origins of Caleb Calypso and the Midnight Marauders. As a tank crewman in the Second Armored Cavalry, he was stationed in Bamberg, Germany from 1988 to 1990. When the wall between East and West Germany fell, he was there. During his two-year deployment, he saw a lot of working-class guys who'd brought to the service all of their civilian racist, sexist and homophobic baggage. In short, a lot of Craft's own experiences are in Caleb Calypso.
"It's semiautobiographical," he admits. "Caleb is a lot cooler than I ever was. And a lot of characters are bits and pieces of guys I knew in several situations." Craft's play follows a group of soldiers during that changing time.
Though he's had several plays produced at N.C. Central University, Craft admits that he's self-taught. "I taught myself how to write plays by reading August Wilson. Before the Process Series, I didn't even know what a dramaturge was."
It's an important point. When he got into a jam while writing Caleb Calypso, a literary analyst trained to probe the blind spots in a playwright's world was exactly what he needed. He now credits dramaturge Marshall Botvinick with helping him find the current ending to his play.
For Craft, one main takeaway from his new play is this: The guys we'll meet aren't all they're cracked up to be. "They're rough-edged guys trying to be tough. The truth is, you're dealing with kids. At the end of the day these are just boys, and they're not playing with toys; they're playing with things that kill people."
He considers Private Bates a particularly poignant character in his script. "There are hundreds of Bates. He's 18 years old. Think about that guy facing the Taliban."
Craft pauses. Then he says, "We need to be very on top of where we send these children to fight and die in our name. And for what causes we send them to be there."
Howard Craft's Caleb Calypso and the Midnight Marauders shows at Manbites Dog Theatre through Nov. 14. Tickets are $10-$17 at can be purchased online, at the Manbites box office or by calling 682-3343.