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‘9 Circles’ recruits veterans for new play that merges mental health and the military

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A new off-Broadway play is merging mental illness and the military in Dante-inspired drama.

“This is just telling a very, very dangerous story really which happens quite regularly,” Josh Collins, who portrays Daniel Reeves, said.

The show is called "9 Circles" and it follows a young soldier who’s arrested and prosecuted for various war crimes. Despite a known disorder and requests for psychiatric help, he’s deployed. It was inspired by actual events and mimics Dante's Inferno.

“Dante’s circles are a journey from darkness of hell through purgatory through change to finally arriving at becoming your true self and that’s what our character does,” Bill Cain, playwright, said.

Collins took on the role with a deep respect for the military as his great grandfather served in the Royal Berkshires.

“He was captured by the Japanese at the Battle of Midway and was forced into a POW camp," Collins said.

But nothing can compare to a first-hand account, so the production team brought in two veterans, Hayley Johnson and Philip Milio, to enhance that connection.

“What I’m bringing to this experience is some of my traumas that I’ve had and some of the sacrifices that I've had to make,” Johnson said.

Johnson served in the U.S. Naval Police during the Gulf War and Philip Milio worked with the military intelligence unit throughout Vietnam. Both are still coping in their own way.

“There’s a difficult battle within the person serving in the military who experiences some horrible things and to understand what that’s like is very, very difficult,” Milio said.

While the stripped-down show focuses on this one man’s self-discovery, it also hopes to impart the importance of humanity on its audience.

“Ultimately the play is about empathy [and] about learning to connect," Cain said.

"9 Circles" is playing at the Sheen Center through March 19.

Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi