PORTLAND — Veterans Day is traditionally celebrated with parades and the flying of American flags. This year, the University of Southern Maine’s Theatre Department marked the occasion with the premiere of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” an original play that gives voice to the military men and women affected by discrimination and the recently repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Professor Wil Kilroy penned the play after seeing the movie, “Soldier’s Girl,” which recounts the tragic story of Army Pfc. Barry Winchell.

Suspected of being gay because he was dating Calpernia Addams, a transgender nightclub performer, Winchell was brutally beaten to death in 1999 by a fellow serviceman. His senseless death helped lead to the end of the DADT policy in September.

Inspired by Winchell’s story, and intrigued by how the DADT policy operated, Kilroy set out to craft a play that would be informative and enlightening.

Kilroy, in collaboration with the cast, sifted through documentaries and conducted personal interviews to form the stories that make up “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Images of flags waving in the breeze on two screens greeted the audience from a colorful backdrop of military symbols Friday as they packed into the intimate Studio Theater on Forest Avenue.

A soundtrack of patriotic songs filled the air, reminding the crowd of the heroism of our soldiers.

The performance quickly kicked into high gear with the appearance of the cast in trench coats, performing the Weather Girls’ 1982 hit, “It’s Raining Men.” The female cast wore mustaches, blurring the gender lines.

At the climax of the song, the male cast members shed their coats, stripping down to gold lame skivvies. It was the first of many surprises for the evening.

Kimberly Stacy and William Robert Vile served as the audience’s engaging guides as the play navigated through a series of shorts recounting the tales of men and woman who suffered at the hand of bigotry because of their sexual orientations and lifestyle choices.

Although most were military-based scenarios, the play also highlighted bias in the workplace and in school. And the time-line spanned the years back to World War II.

It was a fast-paced, 95-minute performance, with a barrage of information and acronyms flying at the audience. Education about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) culture was rolled out with discrimination statistics and facts surrounding the DADT policy.

Real news clips, television interviews and brainwashing propaganda infomercials shown throughout added poignancy.

The 14 cast members played both sides of the fence, portraying victims and tormentors. Each story opened a new emotional door, further shedding light on the issues surrounding LGBT rights.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” movingly culminated with Michael Johnson Jr. (Winchell), Joseph D. Sibley (Addams), Nathan Daniel Lapointe (Pvt. Calvin Glover), Alexi Saliba (Spc. Justin Fisher) and Abigail Worthing (Patricia Kutteles, Winchell’s mother) movingly re-enacting the events leading up to Winchell’s untimely death.

Kilroy and cast have clearly put a lot of thought, time and passion into creating and executing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

It weaves real-life stories in with personal experience, song and pointed humor. The result is poignant, revealing and entertaining.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: [email protected]