Douglas Taurel explores ‘The American Soldier’ in one-man show
By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN
Were it not for a fortuitous car trip with his father, Douglas Taurel might still be a practicing Jew today living in the city of the highest number of Jews, New York City.
His father, a Syrian Jewish refugee who came to the U.S. via Argentina, made certain his son was schooled in Hebrew and that he attended weekly morning services on Saturday at his synagogue. But owing to his wife’s Catholic upbringing and his sense that his son might not be happy as a practicing Jew, his father insisted they take a ride. It was just before he would have had to commit to preparation for a bar mitzvah.
As the family was living in Houston, his father gave him a choice. “You have to be Jewish or you have to be Christian,” Taurel related in a CCJN phone interview.
By the time they returned home, Douglas had made up his mind that he wanted to have his Saturdays free to play and that he wanted to be raised as a Christian.
“He was very open-minded,” Taurel recalled. “Are you sure? Because once you make this decision you can’t go back.” His father understood and went along with his decision.
But the values inculcated in Judaism were still drummed into Doug’s head. His father pointed with pride when he talked about the American soldiers who stormed the beaches in Normandy to save “my people.” These lessons were important to Taurel in the years to come as his father instilled in him a patriotism he did not fully understand.
Taurel recalls his father’s almost obsessive TV watching of “The World at War” in which he reveled in the Allies victory over the Nazis and other members of the Axis.
Eventually, Taurel ended up in college at Ole Miss and wanted to impress a girl. He auditioned for a role in a play and found, much to his amazement, that he enjoyed the work. “I fell in love with acting,” he admitted. “I think what I love about acting is it’s really about the history of acting.”
Taurel said he enjoyed the research in determining the motivation of the characters, their costumes and what was happening in the period in which the action is set.
A scholarship to the school led him to explore his options more fully as an actor. In many of the short plays he starred, he played a soldier. This is when he began to become more and more fascinated by the universal history of soldiers.
Taurel and his soon-to-be wife left Texas for New York and he’s lived there for the past two decades, mostly acting in off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway houses.
During the last several years, he began to research the letters written by American soldiers to their families and loved ones throughout the history of the American experience. The research at the 48th Street Library yielded what has become his one-man show “The American Soldier,” which chronicles the experience of every American conflict except the Spanish-American War and the Korean War, often referred to as “the forgotten war.”
“The reason I don’t have the Korean War is that I had two letters that were very similar and I was both moved by them,” he said. “I chose the World War II one, so it becomes the weird thing that I don’t have the ‘forgotten war’ in it.”
He hopes to include the Korean War in a future iteration of the show.
Many of the soldier’s stories relate across time lines. One soldier states the three lessons he has learned are teamwork, discipline and brotherhood, Taurel said, and they are the patterns that come up within each war or conflict he covers.
“I surround those three columns (with) pictures of sacrifice,” Taurel explained. To that end, he includes depression and suicide, drug addiction and alcoholism among factors they experience after serving. “I just want people when they see a veteran, especially someone who served overseas, that there’s been a tremendous price that’s been paid, even if he’s never been to combat.”
Taurel’s show “The American Soldier” had its three-day run at the Jefferson Performing Arts Westwego Performing Arts Center, 177 Sala Avenue.