published Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Varnell's one-man show at CTC recounts WWII veterans' experiences


What: "I Wasn't No Hero: Stories of Those Who Fought World War II."

When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, Sept. 9-10 and Sept. 16-17.

Where: CircleStage, Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St.

Admission: $18 adults, $9 veterans/current military service personnel.

Phone: 267-8534.



Today: Opening-night reception, 7 p.m.

Saturday: Real-time captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons by the Hearing Loss Association of Hamilton County

Sept. 9: Storyteller Louis Varnell and director Chuck Tuttle available after the show to discuss the production and field questions

Sept. 16: Complimentary snacks and beverages for Girls' Night Out at the Canteen, 7 p.m.


The CTC opens its 88th season tonight with "I Wasn't No Hero." Still to come on the CircleStage are:

Nov. 4-19: "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde."

April 13-28: Festival of New Plays runners-up.

June 15-July 14: "Hair."

Onstage next is the Youth Theatre production of "Frankenstein," opening Sept. 30. MainStage productions begin Oct. 14 with "Dark of the Moon."

Louis Varnell said stories World War II veterans tell need no exaggeration or fictionalized details.

"What these guys went through," said the Flintstone, Ga., resident, whose one-man show "I Wasn't No Hero: Stories of Those Who Fought World War II" opens on the CircleStage of the Chattanooga Theatre Centre tonight, "was good enough without me trying to pump up the drama. If I start adding to and taking away, I'm cheapening what they went through."

Varnell has been telling some of the stories for years at schools and public events as founder and director of the Southeast Veterans Museum and owner of The History Co.

In the CircleStage show, he has fleshed out the color of some of the stories and added new ones. One story, he said, will be told through research he did on artifacts such as a Purple Heart and related papers he recently acquired from the family of a native Chattanooga soldier.

The majority, Varnell said, come directly from a veteran's mouth to his ears.

Yet, he said, "I'm not a World War II vet, and I'm not going to [portray] this as a first-person show. It's a storytelling show."

Varnell said the two-hour show will be broken into stories about the European and Pacific theaters of the war. He will tell the stories in uniforms authenticated to the smallest detail.

He said when he and director Chuck Tuttle first discussed how the show might be staged, he figured actors would play the roles of soldiers. Tuttle, he said, suggested he do it as a one-man show.

"You're the guy who knows it," Varnell said the director told him.

"I'd not considered that at all," he said. "I told him, 'That is a terrible idea.'"

Yet, Varnell has been telling the stories -- some dramatic, some touching and some funny -- for years and now feels comfortable in the role.

His school storytelling, he said, is geared toward fifth- and sixth-graders "who don't have a knowledge of World War II outside of video games. In that, the story matters. I want them to have an understanding of [the war's] context in American history.

"In this, I assume [audience members] come with a base knowledge, so telling some of the down-and-dirty stories will have a deeper meaning to an adult. And I hope the kids of World War II will come to this. These are stories that they would have grown up with."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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