November 6, 2023 at 7:05 a.m.

"The Well House" Play: About Vietnam War & Love Now on YouTube

By DAVID WEBSTER | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

“The Well House” is one of the best books I have read. It was written by two friends, Mark Van Voorhis and Ed Kugler. A perfect summary on the front cover states the book is “a Hoosier love story of war, peace, hope, and forever.” I received permission from the authors to adapt it to a play, and a great local cast presented it two consecutive years at WILLow LeaVes to large crowds. 

Mark traveled from Utah each year and took comments and questions at the Hope Library Annex. All attending veterans received a signed copy of the book due to the help of the Hope Town Council and the generosity of Mark. Due to Columbus resident, Larry Miller, volunteering to record the play and the willingness of Ben Cleland, Hauser graduate, to transfer it to YouTube, you can now watch it in the comfort of your home by visiting HERE. (It is about one hour and twenty-six minutes long.) This roughly two-minute VIDEO was directed by Mark and has some great visuals with a few related to Hope.  

I got to know Mark when he was around several years ago promoting the book because he selected Hope as the hometown for one of the main characters, Clayton Riggs. Like Mark, I think Hope would make a wonderful setting for a movie crew and continue to hope the play might be a steppingstone to make that dream become true. In fact, since the play, Mark and I have remained in contact, and he hired two individuals to write screenplays, one by Hauser graduate, Daniel Anderson, and the other by Brandon Wade Ho, Utah, to present to an interested movie company.

Clayton goes from Hope (Hauser) High School to Indiana University in 1966. While at The Well House, he meets Maggie O'Reilly from Chicago. Clayton and Maggie develop a strong friendship. Clayton then joins the Marines and goes to the Vietnam War while Maggie ends up writing for the Chicago Tribune, often about the Vietnam War, under the pen name Midge Madigan.

Mark was enrolled in IU's ROTC program while Ed joined the Marines immediately after high school and went to Vietnam. It was forty years afterward that they would pull their ideas together for a novel. They felt the first attempt was too long and later reworked it to 255 pages. It was still quite challenging to condense the great substance of this fictional novel to a 95-minute play. Approximately, one half of the book is about the war, and Ed's experiences in Nam are evident.

Within the play, you will just get a hint of the battles as well as the twelve letters in the book from Maggie to Clayton which are superbly written. (They were done in collaboration with Kathleen Connors, an archivist, historian, writer, and artist.) Their special friendship transcends their differences about the war. And there is the one letter from Clayton, the letter you wonder whether or not it will ever reach the hands of the intended receiver, Maggie. Clayton though made a wise choice of giving the letter to the one fellow Marine he knew who would carry out the mission to the very end, Moto.

One of the turning points in Moto's life was reading “The Choice” by Og Mandino and understandably after reading the book myself. Moto obviously thought about Og's wise words throughout the pages and in a final speech by the main character with a small portion of it as follows:

“I choose a better way to live. ... My needs are few. Happiness, I see now, has nothing to do with getting. It consists of being satisfied with what I've got and what I haven't got. … So long as I have something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for, I shall be happy. Now I know that the only source of happiness is within me, and I will begin to share it. ... I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this world again.”

Director, Pete Law, pulled from his many theatrical experiences to incorporate while technical manager, Ben Cleland, and his assistants, Ken/Michelle Seim, masterfully added pictures, sound, and lights. Cast members were Pete Law, Pastor Andy Kilps, Avery Tallent, Abby Calender, Jessica Brown, Daniel Ott, Daniel Wiehe, Ben Miller, J. P. Mayer, Kaylie Fougerousse, Dan Fleming, Lynne Fleming, Lisa Long, A.C. Reeves, Larry Wheeler, Dave Newmister, David Munn & Mike Hess. Sally Webster performed original songs during play transition points. I had a short narrator part and collaborated with Avery Tallent, Hope's rising songwriter/performer, in writing the song, “Maggie, My Bestest Friend”. Elizabeth Sexton, Hauser visual arts teacher, with her husband, Jeremy, and her students, Raley Clark, Tristan Watkins, Carly Archer, Shelby Fugate, Brooke Hopkins, Leah Joyce, Kayla Poff, Melanie Taylor, Alex Woodson-Johnson, and Courtney Nicholas, designed a great backdrop of the Well House which was incorporated for each scene. Bob Miller, Columbus MIA/POW Organization, provided the Missing Man Table Exhibit and later put one together to reside within the Yellow Trail Museum.

When my wife, Lisa, and I visited Washington D.C. on our honeymoon, I was emotionally drawn to the Vietnam War Memorial, the hands-on names, tears, notes, flowers, and … An uncle, Tom Baker, served there and was always hesitant to discuss. Larry Perkinson, one of the newest writers for “HSJ”, wrote a touching article about visiting a replica of the wall at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds in August. Many of us know someone who has served or who is now serving our country. It is my sincere hope watching the play will pay tribute to those men and women, and it will be a reminder to each of us of the many life changes related to war.