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Postcards to the edge

The thoughts are written on white, 3-by-5 cards tied by ribbons to an 18-foot tree of steel.

They are the simplest of sentiments:

"Honey, this card is for you, my favorite Marine. Love, S."

Or they touch old memories:

"To my cousin Jackie, who died at age 20 in Vietnam. He was very kind to his young niece. I missed having him around."

The Remembrance Tree is an avatar of compassion.

Standing in the lobby of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's New Theatre in Ashland, it bears silent witness to the feelings touched by Julie Marie Myatt's "Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter," a play about a U.S. Marine who returns from Iraq with wounds both outer and inner.

The OSF has done some unusual things in connection with the play, which had its world premiere in February, directed by Chicago director Jessica Thebus. It forged a community partnership with The Veterans of Foreign Wars, Grizzly Post 353, and sought veterans' input. It is giving free tickets to military personnel, veterans and reservists (call 482-4331). And it created the tree after OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch told Senior Scenic Designer Richard L. Hay he wanted a way for people to post their thoughts.

"Bill said he wanted to have a place in the New Theatre," Hay says. "But we have virtually no wall space."

The lobby is dominated by glass, an open stairwell and a large doorway to the performance space. Hay's solution was a series of steel hoops, each of which is attached to a central, vertical rod with a pin. Seventeen hoops ascend toward the ceiling, and there's room for eight more. People have tied hundreds, maybe thousands of cards to the rings.

"It's a wonderful idea," Sarah Durand, of Ashland, says as she looks the tree up and down.

Her husband, Melvin Durand, was a master sergeant in the U.S. Marines in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

"He never talked about it until right before he died," she says. "He felt war was wrong, but he became very fond of his years in the Marines."

She says the couple visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. There, Melvin found the name of a man who died on a mission he was supposed to have been on.

Some of the cards are in the moment:

"I love you, Uncle Mike. Life for you is going to continue after you come home. I know you've seen a lot ... but we're here for you. Please don't ever feel alone."

Others address old wars:

"I was a doctor in Vietnam. This brought back all the limbs I was involved in removing."

"For Dad, who flew over Europe during WWII and will always be in our hearts — Laura, Ted, Brenda and Mark."

"I want to remember our class president in high school, Harry Clanton, who gave his life in Vietnam. God bless all who serve in our military."

Others express ideas:

"So much love. So much possibility. Still exists. No matter what you think."

Still others voice outrage at war or hopes for peace:

"One day we will not have wars to send our children to."

"Numbers (equals sign with a slash through it) lives."

"We are all witnesses."

One addresses itself to "those who told us the true stories of war," listing Rupert Brooke, Ernie Pyle, David Halberstam, Tobias Wolff, Wilfred Owen, Ambrose Bierce.

"Welcome Home Jenny Sutter" will end its OSF run June 20. After that it will move to The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or bvarble@mailtribune.com.

Top: The 18-foot tall tree gives people a chance to share their thoughts after seeing 'Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,' a play about a U.S. Marine who returns from Iraq physically and emotionally wounded. Above: A theater-goer ties a note to The Remembrance Tree at Oregon Shakespeare Festival's New Theatre. Jim Craven 5/20/2008 Jim Craven 5/20/2008 - Jim Craven