Griffin Theater Company presents GHOSTS OF WAR Review: One Person Can Make a Big Difference

“Why did you do it?”

This is the bold question that kick starts Ghosts of War. Ryan Smithson crosses the stage and explains that this is always the first question asked of him – why did he join the army? The question may be simple, but with its sincere and informal feel, acts as the perfect way to prep the audience for the journey of a play that is his answer.

Griffin Theater presents Ghosts of War

Adapted from Ryan Smithson’s novel by Griffin Theater Artistic Director William Massolia and directed by Jason Gerace, this one-man-show follows Ryan Smithson (Sam Krey) as he details his story of how he enlisted in the army, completed a tour in Iraq, and how that aftermath impacted him following his return home. When 16-year-old Smithson watched the events and aftermath of 9/11 unfold on television, he made a choice – he would do his part to make a difference in the best way that he could. How does he do that? He joins the reserves as soon as he can at age 17, and his life is changed forever. 

(pictured) Sam Krey in Griffin Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of GHOSTS OF WAR. Photo by Evan Hanover

A Lesson for Young People

 “If I don’t do something, who will?”

 It is this question that drives Smithson to join the army reserves, and is an idea that continues throughout the play as he reflects. This is the question that drives him to forgo a college education when he is deployed. This is the question that drives him to purpose to his college girlfriend and make the promise that if he survives, he will come to her, and this is the question that forces him to embark on a year that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Krey portrays that tension as he shares Smithson’s story, and through that narrative, a lesson arises – an especially necessary one for young people. Smithson’s experience is just one example of how a student can take a step towards action for a cause in which they believe, and that alone is an important message to spread. Ghosts of War for that reason makes an excellent story to share with schools, and Griffin Theatre even offers ideas for that curriculum on their website.

(pictured) Sam Krey in Griffin Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of GHOSTS OF WAR Photo by Evan Hanover

While this play offers a useful tool for teaching about agency in young peoples’ voices, this writer as an audience member was wanting for a little more. The play begins to touch on some key points of PTSD, or the challenges of surviving a war zone, which Krey shares in an honest and heartbreaking manner. This writer was curious to see how expanding those moments could enhance the message even further.

A lot can be learned from Ryan Smithson’s story, and Griffin Theatre brings it to life in an honest and thought-provoking manner.



Playing through May 6, 2018

Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 4:00pm and 7:30pm
Sundays at 2:00pm
Run Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

Photo Credit:

Evan Hanover


The Den Theatre
1331 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622


For tickets and information, visit the show page on the Griffin Theatre Website.


Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago

About the Author:

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.

Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.


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