Getting way under the skin


Most people associate scars with visible markings on the skin. But not every wound is such a noticeable reminder of pain. Deep emotional scars, which leave no trace of pain to the naked eye, are often ignored.

UI graduate student Joe Luis Cedillo’s play Painted Skin recognizes the visible and internal wounds soldiers experienced during and after World War I. The production will show in the Theatre Building’s Theatre B from Friday through March 1.

Painted Skin is based on true events from WWI, the first war doctors experimented with plastic surgery to repair facial damage caused by war’s dangerous weapons. With no hope to reconstruct the faces shattered in battle, doctors learned to create masks that resembled the soldiers’ faces.

These masks gave the men a chance to return to a normal life.

As a trained Marine, Cedillo said he began to think about the pain of war — not only visible markings but also the internal agony that comes with it.

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“[We need to learn] how to be more mindful of our wounded veterans if they have scars or if they don’t have scares,” Cedillo said.

There are too few plays dealing with war, he said, and he hopes Painted Skin will help raise awareness.

“Even though it’s set in WWI, it is so current in what it’s saying about the ramifications of war,” said Sarah Ballema, the play’s director. “Not only on the soldiers who are doing the fighting but the people who have relationships with the soldiers, and how identity gets changed through war and through violence in ways that isn’t intended but can’t be ignored.”

Cedillo said that even those who don’t have friends or family members fighting in war can relate to characters in the show.

“This play makes me think about how really we’re affected by this even if we’re not on the frontlines, just by being part of this community,” Ballema said.

Cedillo came across the idea for his play when he saw a show about WWI on PBS. Ideas began to fly around in his head, he said, and he formed a mental script on the topic before writing it down. He thought about Painted Skin for more than a year before he came to Iowa.

Cedillo commends the actors who are responsible for bringing the play alive for doing his characters justice.

“From this particular play, a couple of [the actors] have actually made me rethink my characters in certain ways,” he said. “They have allowed me to explore them a little more and allow [the characters] to be more human.”

In the end, Cedillo hopes Painted Skin will help audiences learn to face not only physical scares but the internal pain, too.

“We can accommodate pain,” he said. “We can normalize it, and we can learn to deal with it.”

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