Playwright Livian Yeh on ‘Memorial’

MEMORIAL by Livian Yeh
Amy Ward as Maya Lin in Livian Yeh’s Memorial. (Photo: Kalman Zabarsky)

I wrote Memorial in response to a moment that happened to me while visiting the Arlington National Cemetery. Our tour guide was leading us toward the Iwo Jima Memorial, all the while telling us with pride that the Battle of Iwo Jima was the first and only time the United States had planted its flag on Japanese soil. My fellow tourists responded enthusiastically. All of a sudden, as I stood and looked at the memorial, I was struck by the overly simple narrative presented by the statue. I felt that the Second World War was so much more complicated than this image of brave soldiers planting the American flag on enemy soil. I began asking myself, can memorials be honest? How do we thank soldiers for their service, but at the same time acknowledge the damages done by war? What stories do memorials tell, and what do these stories reflect about the United States?

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial may not answer all of these questions, but it certainly challenged and changed the pre-existing notion of memorials in the United States. Through requiring its visitors to contemplate and reconcile with the concepts of loss, death and war, Maya Lin succeeded in redefining history. I hope my play captures the essence of an artist’s struggle to tell the truth, and that the audience will leave the play and think about memorials in a different light.

—Livian Yeh

‘Memorial’ concludes its run this week. Don’t miss it! Tickets