Tuesday, December 04, 2012

A Civil War Christmas

I wanted to like A Civil War Christmas almost as much as it wanted to be liked. Playwright Paula Vogel's sincerity is quite apparent, as is director Tina Landau's creativity. But this tale of Christmas Eve, 1864, tries to accomplish so much that it ends up accomplishing too little.

Alice Ripley
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Its very concept works against it: presenting the Civil War in story theatre form with frequent singing of Christmas carols, and including a huge swath of the people of the time, from slaves to free blacks, poor people to wealthy, illiterate to well-educated, soldiers to generals to the president of the United States and his wife Mary. Its an ambitious concept, but also a scattered one.

While many of the characters would seem to demand our interest (a lost girl, a Quaker soldier, a dying soldier, Walt Whitman, the Lincolns, etc, etc), they come and go so quickly that it's hard to care about them. Everyone plays multiple roles, and it occasionally takes a moment or two to figure out which character is being depicted in a particular scene--and then the scene is gone (there are over 60 scenes!).

And while it's a sweet and playful conceit to have men play women and vice versa, it adds to the general sense of confusion and lack of focus. Add to this the singing and the tropes of story theatre (people talking about themselves in the third person; people narrating what other people are doing; a man playing a cutesy horse; the aforementioned multiple casting), and the stories are diluted and interrupted further. (On the other hand, much of the singing is lovely.)

The cast is largely strong, although not all of them are easy to understand, and some are more effective as some of their characters than as others. They include Sumaya Bouhbal, K. Todd Freeman, Chris Henry, Rachel Spencer Hewitt, Antwayn Hopper, Amber Iman, Jonathan-David, Karen Kandel, Sean Allan Krill, Alice Ripley, and Bob Stillman. (If you'd like to see a trailer for the show, click here.)

(press ticket; 6th row center)

No comments: