BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC & PUBLISHER
Americans do not have the same emotional connection to the Great War as we do to WWII since we only officially entered the fray near the end of the conflict in 1918. America did unfortunately lose over 110,000 men (a third from disease), but Great Britain and the Allies bore the brunt of this war that claimed almost 18 million lives and left another 20 million wounded.
“All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” at NC Stage Company eloquently celebrates these brave British men who fought in the trenches in Belgium in a true story that demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit that traversed both sides of the Western Front for a single day in a place now known as No Man’s Land.
Told in a style reminiscent of the estrogen-driven “The Vagina Monologues,” this play by Peter Rothstein is delivered through short readings by three amazing actors (Michael MacCauley, Willie Repoley and Catori Swann) of selections from actual soldiers’ letters and journals, as well as official war documents, poetry, grave stone inscriptions and even radio broadcasts.
And as these low-level soldiers write of their excitement about deploying and taking down the Germans, we are treated to selections of rare traditional and period songs expertly arranged by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach and performed by an ensemble from Cantaria, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Asheville.
Many of these selections will be unfamiliar to most Americans since some are very region-specific such as the Scottish traditional “Will Ye Go to Flanders?”, the English traditional “The Old Barbed Wire” or compositions like “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” or the WWI march “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag.”
But the work’s powerful climax comes on a quiet Christmas Eve night in 1914 when the chorus dives into Christmas standards and the text pieces the true events together as the British forces and Germans temporarily lay down their arms and celebrate the holiday and its powerful ability to unite friends, comrades and foes.
The actors give rich portrayals of these brave men in a variety of eclectic and very specific accents and the marvelous singers provide textured mood and brilliance all a cappella through vocal rhythms and melodies and some impressive, nuanced overlapping vocals.
NC Stage Company co-founder and Artistic Director Charlie Flynn-McIver directs this production and wisely relies on the story augmented with only a series of projection stills and simple lighting by CJ Barnwell, and the cast dressed in regular street clothes (no period costumes).
Cantaria conductor Steve Cooper is music director and sings the score with Eric McAnallen, David Berkey, Jack Parsons, James Peacock, Rick Pollard, Rich Edwards, Eric Sootin and David Hopes.
“All is Calm” manages to tell a magnificent true tale that is ripe with emotion, power and awe-inspiring bravery and demonstrates the similarities between these two opposing parties made up of the common man and how the differences were chiefly within the military powers that controlled the conflict.
“All is Calm” continues through Dec. 27 on Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. with some holiday closures. NC Stage Company is at 15 Stage Lane, Asheville. Tickets are $16-36. Call (828) 239-0263 or visit http://www.ncstage.org.