Monday, February 03, 2014

Row After Row

Jessica Dickey's Row After Row sneaks up on you. The story seems simple: three Civil War re-enactors share a table in a bar following a re-creation of the battle of Gettysburg. Tom and Cal are old friends and experienced re-enactors. Leah is new in town and has joined the re-enactors in a bid to meet people. Cal is horrified both at her having played a soldier and at her having done so in non-period-appropriate clothing. Leah explains, "I didn’t feel like playing the serving wench or a widowed bride or whatever." Cal is derisive and downright rude, calling the new rules that allow women to dress as men, "mamby pamby bullshit." He also explains that it can cost thousands of dollars to get all of the necessary garb and equipment to be an authentic re-enactor. Tom adds, "Most people don’t realize the commitment goes beyond sleeping in a tent and wearing wool in July." Leah and Cal spar, with Tom trying to play peacemaker.

Rosie Benton, Erik Lochtefeld. P.J. Sosko
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Cal is recovering from a brutal breakup and isn't quite the jerk he seems. For all of his belligerence, he listens when Leah speaks.  Leah, who chose to move to Gettysburg by putting her finger "on the map one drunken night about three weeks ago," is mourning her vanished career as a dancer. Tom, a teacher with a son about to be born, and barely scraping by, is deciding whether to go on strike with his union, torn between loyalty to his family and to his coworkers, between principles and fear.

Although the play initially seems to be an entertaining battle of the sexes, with feminist flavoring and even a touch of "meet cute," Dickey has more on her mind. By its end, Row After Row has revealed itself as a serious, thought-provoking, and occasionally chilling examination of bravery, integrity, manhood, and womanhood that is also very funny.

Periodically the three actors slip into Civil War scenes that exist both as their own vivid moments and as companions to the present-day scenes. The different time periods address similar questions: What is a good life? What is a good person? What is worth dying for? How can a man prove he's a man without a bayonet and a war? How can people survive the day-to-day battles of making a living, having relationships, dealing with sexism, and experiencing major disappointments without being whittled away to nothing? Dickey recognizes that war, horrendous as it is, offers a clarity and sense of purpose lost in the quotidian bullshit of many people's lives. It may be easier in some ways to support the Union than the union.

Row After Row is smartly directed by Daniella Topol, and performers Rosie Benton (Leah), Erik Lochtefeld (Tom), and PJ Sosko (Cal) are all superb. The set and costumes by Clint Ramos and lighting by Tyler Micoleau are effective and attractive.

Row After Row only runs through February 16th, unfortunately, so you'll need to move quickly to get to see this marvelous piece of theatre.

(press ticket, 7th row center)

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