The Idyllwild Arts Academy Theatre Department’s next production intertwines mythology and contemporary history to address the complex and ever-present issue of war. Ellen McLaughlin’s “Ajax in Iraq” takes on the eternal conflict — war — and opens up issues such as leadership and soldiers’ responsibilities.

McLaughlin’s script presents two pictures of war. The relationship between mythological Ajax and his goddess of war — Athena — is juxtaposed with A.J., a contemporary female soldier fighting in Iraq, tormented by her officer.

Has war changed? Have the roles of soldiers on the line changed? These are the questions McLaughlin poses. Since the academy’s cast are all students, they also had to face and deal with these issues as they rehearsed the production.

“Yes, it’s edgy,” said Department Chair and Director Howard Shangraw. “But we’ve done edgy before. The kids learn so much. It’s a wonderful teaching tool. The play blends Sophocles and Ajax with a mix of modern conditions for soldiers serving in Iraq.”

Shangraw has brought in Holli Plummer from the Humanities Department faculty to elucidate Sophocles and Greek mythology, as well as John Goulding, Humanities chair, to explain how the formation of modern Iraq and how its creation affects current events.

The parallel between mythology and reality does not escape the students. “War relates to the human trial and has been around forever,” said one. “It teaches us about the one warrior. Ajax was brought to his knees and A.J. is also brought down. War is hell.”

Several students mentioned the “insanity” of war and its endurance throughout human life. But several students mentioned a more personal connection or observation.

One had a grandfather who served in World War II, another had a father who served in Vietnam and another has a relative who was in Iraq. In all these cases, the former combatant rarely shared or talked about their experience. The students all acknowledged that they now understand the silence better.

“The playwright throws almost everything — WMDs, IEDs, and more — she can into the play,” Shangraw observed.

“Ajax in Iraq” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 13 and 14 and at 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 14 and 15. The production will be in Rush Hall on the school’s campus.

J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected]