R.C. Sherriff's first play is based on his experiences during the First World War as a captain in Britain's East Surrey regiment. His unflinching portrait of life in the French trenches is difficult to watch without becoming enraged at the thoughtless carnage, misguided use of chemical weapons, and the waste of a generation of European males in a war never won. Sherriff's insightful portraits have an irresistible vivacity amidst the hardship that will haunt the audience for a long time to come.
Antony Ferguson was a handsome, charismatic Stanhope. His sensitive face and taut body language were a tragic mirror of devastation in a brilliant, fully realized performance. Jeff Berry as the genteel, thoughtful Lieutenant Osborne provided a gentle foil to the intense Stanhope. Calmly smoking his pipe and reading his book before going out to be killed on the battlefield, he was an English gentleman of the 19th century, already an anachronism in a dangerous new world. Christopher Wilkes's exuberant Second Lieutenant Raleigh was a paean to everything wonderful and fearless about youth. His death scene was dignified and heartbreaking.
Charles Wayne Loflin's plump, jovial Second Lieutenant Trotter embodied the jaded career soldier- hoping only to survive, having long ago dispensed with heroics. Jeff Bearden as the would-be deserter Hibbert was a likable bundle of energy. Jim Wisniewski was a poker-faced, low-key Private Mason, a cook whose enthusiasm and ability to endure verbal abuse outweighed his culinary skills. Dudley Stone was marvelously detached as the Colonel who sends his men off to die in battle . Ken Glickfeld's care-worn presence and ironic humor were ideal for the cynical Captain Hardy. Jeff Callan as the Sergeant-Major and Christopher D. Roberts as Private Broughton and a German soldier contributed strong support in smaller roles.
The company is anticipating a German attack that could be disastrous if mishandled. In charge is the brilliant young Captain Stanhope, an apparent superman with the capacity to wage relentless warfare with no sleep. A decent and kind man by nature, the past three years have warped his temperment, making him increasingly dependent on alcohol to survive the traumas of war. Subject to unpredictable and frightening mood swings, he still has the support of his company. Stanhope's fragile equilibrium is shattered when the younger brother of his girlfriend back home is assigned to his company. Fearing the boy will report his deterioration to the girl, Stanhope becomes unhinged. The young Second Lieutenant Raleigh still worships Stanhope from childhood, and seems oblivious to his condition. Within days, Raleigh is killed after heroic participation in two risky offensives.
Director Christopher Stillwell fearlessly explored every nuance in Sherriff's complex script, revealing warmth and intimacy at unexpected times. He guided his exceptional ensemble with confidence, encouraging them to let their talents soar.
Lorree True's authentic soldier's uniforms and properties
lent reality to the piece. Monika Jewidowicz's simple officer's
quarters, and Jeff Berry's slightly dim lighting augmented with
candles, evoked a ghastly ambience appropriate for the production.
The judicious use of stage blood added to the immediacy. Sound
designer Andy Cohen provided period recordings and kept
the shelling going but never drowned out the actors.
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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern