May 21, 2007
UI Playwright Wins At National MFA Playwrights Festival
Joshua Casteel, a Master of Fine Arts student in both the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, was one of nine winners in the National MFA Playwrights Festival. As a result, his 10-minute script "The Interrogation Room" was performed May 8-10 at Stage 2 of the Atlantic Theater in New York City.
Renowned American playwright John Guare, who wrote "House of Blue Leaves" and "Six Degrees of Separation", selected the winning plays. Rachel Brogan, who holds a bachelor's degree from the UI Department of Theatre Arts, was another of the nine winners.
Casteel's "Returns," based on his experiences as an Abu Ghraib interrogator, was produced at the UI in February, staged by David Gothard, associate director of the Abbey Theatre, Ireland's national theater. Casteel's "Kiddush" was given a reading May 3 at the 2007 Iowa New Play Festival, and his work was also presented at the 2006 festival.
In fall 2007 the Essay Press will release a book of Casteel's war letters, "Letters From Abu Ghraib," and he is also writing a memoir.
A native of Cedar Rapids with a Christian background, Casteel had always dreamed of becoming a soldier. At the age of 17 he signed a contract to go into the Army Reserves and after 9/11 was called up to active duty. Within a few months after his training as an Arabic linguist and interrogator, he was deployed to Baghdad and the Abu Ghraib prison.
The Aug. 26, 2006, issue of the British newspaper The Guardian told his story: "His turning point came when a 22-year-old Saudi who came to Iraq for jihad was brought before him for questioning."
Casteel has written of the incident, "The man was a self-professed jihadist, come from Saudi Arabia for the sole purpose of killing people like me. Yet the entire time we spoke, he talked to me with a gentle calmness and evangelical tone, whereby I genuinely believed he desired my good -- as I grappled with trying to desire his.
"He tried to convert me to Islam from start to finish, and coming from an Evangelical Christian background, I felt in familiar territory, as if I were speaking simply to my Muslim counterpart. Then, we began to discuss war and violence. I asked him why he came to kill, he asked me why did I. At that point I knew I could go no further, unless I wanted to get into a debate about which one of us had the 'more just' cause."
The Guardian article continued, "Two days later Casteel went to Qatar on leave. When he came back he told his commander that he would be applying for conscientious objector status. 'I said I wouldn't turn in my weapon while I was there or talk to the media but would carry on doing my job and when I got back home I would ask to leave the military.' He filed his application on Feb. 16 and was granted an honorable discharge on May 31."
Casteel was subsequently interviewed by Paula Zahn on CNN, his story has become the basis of numerous documents on the Internet, and he has traveled internationally as an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war. He is featured in the film "Soldiers of Conscience."
Casteel received his bachelor's degree from the UI in 2002.
The Department of Theatre Arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, of which the Nonfiction Writing Program is a graduate program.
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