Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: A Silent Night of War

The history of war is filled with moments of horror, terror, and sorrow. The stories that are often spoken of are ones that memorialize the struggles and death of the people fighting. Rarely do the inspiring or heartwarming tales get spoken of. But through times of war there are glimpses of hope and peace. In Ricardo Perez Gonzalez’s heartwarming war drama In Fields Where They Lay, the stunning Christmas Truce of 1914, a moment of peace during World War I, is celebrated on stage in exquisite fashion.
Capturing a moment of fascinating possibility, In Fields Where They Lay follows a troop of British soldiers on the Western Front as a day they never imagine became reality. Written by Ricardo Perez Gonzalez, the drama takes inspiration from the “War to End All Wars” and the momentary truce that shocked the world. The specific story watches a young and optimistic solider, Teddy, and his comrades including Pfeirrer, a husband with hope, Dietrich, the token pessimist, Osbourne, a Jamaican, Sargent Woodward the comic relief, and the aways prim and proper Lieutenant Jeffries as they discover the atmosphere of war changing as the holiday season arrives. While the piece is very ensemble driven, Teddy truly becomes the focal point for the climax. Despite this, Ricardo Perez Gonzalez seems to give the theatrical focus to Pfieffer by including his wife Catherine, appearing through note. This device doesn’t carry through to any of the other characters which forces focus toward Pfeiffer despite him being less of a firestarter than Teddy. Even so, the device of using Catherine truly takes away from the beauty and intrigue of life behind the trenches as she adds little except for exposition. Ricardo Perez Gonzalez capitalizes on the hardship and camaraderie of wartime. The relationships he develops behind the trenches propel the story toward the heart of the piece as they, and their enemies, bond over their mutual adoration for Christmas.
photo courtesy of Hugh Mackey
With a fine group of actors assembled to portray the soliders, the shining star performance came from Spencer Davis Milford as Teddy. Bright eyed Milford brought confidence and a genuine hope to the role. Though Teddy may be the weakest of the lot, he is truly the strongest and Milford conveyed it brilliantly. Another strong showing came from Stephen James Anthony as Private Pfeiffer. Anthony had a subtle strength in his performance that resonated well for his character. Jeff Gonzalez as Private Dietrich took the unenthusiastic persona of his character and gave it great life, avoiding monotony. Zack Calhoon fulfilled a much needed comic relief role as Sargent Woodward. Calhoon hit his comedic marks effortlessly while still giving his character a realistic presence.
With a skilled and sharp mind to lift the characters off the page, director Brad Raimondo depicted this undesirable world with great ease and excitement. With an impressive scaffolding set by Clifton Chadick, Raimondo brought the trench world to the stage with great theatricality. Raimondo guided his actors to find the humanity of their characters and the situation that allowed for the final scene to resonate with the audience. Lighting designer Wilburn Bonnell offered some beautiful looks that allowed Raimondo to great equally beautiful stage pictures. With such a realistic moment of history to portray on stage, Chadick’s theatricality worked with the exception of the back wall piece. When it was revealed later in the show, it made sense but the sharp and jagged negative space image it created was a bit distracting at times, especially when Bonnell’s lights showcased it.
Perhaps with some trimming in the middle of excess material, In Fields Where They Lay may be a newfound Christmas tale you remember for years to come. The straight from the history books story is touching and still significant 100 years later.