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Sharon Talbot’s Civil War Drama “A Field of Glory” Makes Its World Premiere at Hot Summer Nights

Jesse Janowsky and Sharon Talbot star as John and Rosalia Taylor in Talbot's Civil War drama "A Field of Glory" (photo by Lauren Kennedy)

Raleigh actor Jesse Janowsky and New York actress Sharon Talbot star as John and Rosalia Taylor in Talbot's Civil War drama "A Field of Glory" (photo by Lauren Kennedy)

On July 20-24 and 27-30, Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy will present the world-premiere presentation of New York actress and dramatist Sharon Talbot’s two-character Civil War drama A Field of Glory, staged by Talbot’s sister, two-time Tony Award®-nominated director and choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett (Swing!), in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC. This production coincides with the sesquicentennial of what many Hot Summer Nights patrons still call the “War Between the States” or, less diplomatically, the “War of Northern Aggression.”

A Field of Glory, which will be performed in approximately 75 minutes, without intermission, is set on a sultry April day, in the decaying garden of a Mississippi plantation. Playwright Sharon Talbot will portray her Civil War ancestor Rosalia Taylor, a garrulous mother with a green thumb; and Raleigh actor Jesse Janowsky will play Rosalia’s soldier son John, a Confederate cannoneer home on leave.

Talbot notes, “[A Field of Glory] has two complex characters with what Uta Hagen calls ‘verbal appetite,’ a love of expressive, lengthy, sometimes poetic blather. The plays of Shaw, Shakespeare, and many other classics — and some modern pieces — require the same kind of refined speech and interpretive skills.”

She quips, “As the creator of John and Rosalia in A Field of Glory, my task was to make the conversations lifelike, emotional, and physically active, so the audience won’t fall asleep….

“The play is funny, believe it or not,” Sharon Talbot claims. “[A Field of Glory] is about the hilarious relationship between … two headstrong, loving, thorny, forward-looking, witty Southerners who — reunited after six months of battle — have managed to keep their sense of humor. On top of which is that gosh-darned generation gap conflict. After all, John is a teenager.”

Talbot adds, “The Civil War is [just] the backdrop, not the focus [for A Field of Glory]. The play honors [Rosalia and John Taylor] and all other mothers and sons anywhere, anytime, who suffer the winds of war….

“I wrote this play, as well as several others, to create my own work in New York as an actor,” Talbot confesses. “[A Field of Glory director] Lynne Taylor-Corbett and I are sisters, and have collaborated on many projects. [We] are Rosalia’s great-great granddaughters. She and John lived, with their family, through the Civil War at Palmetto Place, Mississippi, just west of Como.”

Lynne Taylor-Corbett notes, “Sharon Talbot is one of my five sisters. Since Sharon based her play on our ancestors, the subject was close to home indeed.

“When we were kids,” says Taylor-Corbett, “my parents used to drive us from Denver, Colorado, down to Mississippi to visit the Taylor clan. There we were regaled with stories of the Civil War. Sharon kept up with our relatives, and did much of her research for A Field of Glory down there.

“Sharon did an informal reading of the play [at the 54th Street Theatre] in New York a year and a half ago,” recalls Taylor-Corbett, who also directed that reading.

She adds, “I found it fascinating that I would laugh one moment and be riveted the next. I admit to needing a hankie at the end. It is just a remarkably funny and moving play.”

Taylor-Corbett reports, “The script [has since been] refined, based on feedback we got from audience members who attended our showcase production in New York last year. As we began rehearsing for our production here at the Kennedy, the play clarified and streamlined once again.

“There is a story-within-the-story that the character of John Speed Taylor acts out for his mother about a pivotal Civil War battle he fought,” explains Lynne Taylor-Corbett. “Weaving his narrative into the main arc of the play between mother and son was the most challenging aspect of directing the play.

“Sharon [Talbot] and Raleigh’s own Jesse Janowsky … are both smart, collaborative actors, so the discoveries have been particularly fun. It’s been like a treasure hunt,” declares Taylor-Corbett.

When the curtain rises on A Field of Glory, Taylor-Corbett says, “Rosalia Taylor, a brave matriarch, is working in her garden on a plantation in Palmetto, Mississippi, near the end of the Civil War. Her son, John Speed Taylor, a cannoneer, pays her a surprise visit. With all the passion of youth, he acts out his important role in a recent battle. Their relationship is quirky and complex. Little by little, the layers of her brave front and his bravado are peeled away, bringing them to an understanding that each of them has always craved.”

In addition to playwright Sharon Talbot and director Lynne Taylor-Corbett, who also choreographs a brief Virginia reel for the show, the Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy creative team for A Field of Glory includes husband-and-wife producers Alan Campbell and Lauren Kennedy; fellow producers Adam Twiss and Hilary Russo; intern assistant director Jim Dadobsky; technical director and set and lighting designer Chris Bernier; properties manager Richard Young; the aptly named sound designer Will Mikes; and stage manager Tiffany Owle. Costume designer A. Christina Giannini has created 1860s gardening clothes for Rosalia; and Luther Sowers of Anvil Arms in Salisbury, NC, has reproduced an exact replica of a Confederate cannoneer’s uniform for John.

Sharon Talbot says A Field of Glory takes place far from the battlefields, where brother was slaughtering brother. The setting for “[A Field of Glory is] A plantation flower garden at the bottom of a small grassy hill, Palmetto Place, Mississippi,” she explains. “The last three steps of an outdoor stairway can barely be seen upstage left behind the foliage.”

She adds, “Flowers grow in abundance on either side of a flagstone path which divides the space. Downstage right, [there is] a flattened patch of dead rose bushes and weeds. Upstage right, [there is] a decorative garden bench. Upstage left, [there is] a decorative garden chair. Upstage center, [there is] a table that holds pots, etc. [There are] Flowers everywhere. Throughout the play, breezes blow, birds sing, insects buzz.”

But A Field of Glory director Lynne Taylor-Corbett notes, “[Rosalia’s garden] is deteriorating before her eyes, and she struggles to hold on to a patch of ground that was once her sanctuary.”

Taylor-Corbett adds, “Directing a two-person show is challenging. How does one get the message across and keep the actors flowing in the space to keep the audience involved?” she asks.

“I believe that audiences want to be challenged,” says Taylor-Corbett, “and I totally trust that they want to hear smart, challenging text in the context of a truthful relationship. The show is period, but the theme is current. Helping the audience make an association with their own opinions, prejudices and revelations is the mission here.”

She adds, “There are many sides to every story. This is one that illuminates the Southern point of view. During the play, that point of view is challenged and great positive energy is released as a result of the mother-son conflict.”

In addition to Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (June 8-12 and 15-19), Sirius/XM’s Broadway host Seth Rudetsky’s Big Fat Broadway Show and Rudetsky’s Master Class on auditioning (both June 13th), The Marvelous Wonderettes (June 29-July 3 and July 6-10), and Sharon Talbot’s original play A Field of Glory (July 20-24 and 27-31), Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy’s 2011 season includes Violet: A New Musical (Aug. 17-21 and 24-28), starring Lauren Kennedy, with music by Jeanine Tesori and a book by Brian Crawley, based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by N.C. author Doris Betts; and the concert Oh, What a Night! (Aug. 31 and Sept. 1), which features an all-star cast singing songs from shows too big for Hot Summer Nights.

SECOND OPINION: July 17th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by David Menconi: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/07/17/1347039_family-history-turns-into-civil.html and July 21st review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/07/21/1360137/field-of-glory-premiere-is-uneven.html.

Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents A FIELD OF GLORY, a world-premiere play by Sharon Talbot, at 8 p.m. July 20-23, 3 p.m. July 24, 8 p.m. July 27-30, and 3 p.m. July 31 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $22 ($18 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 866/811-4111 or https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/27655.

SHOW: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/2011season/afog.asp.

SERIES: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/2011season.asp.

PRESENTER: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/.

VENUE: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/venue/kennedy-theatre.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/directions.

PARKING: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/parking.

OTHER LINKS:

The Playwright: http://www.sharontalbot.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=89598 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3587075/ (Internet Movie Database).

The Director: http://lynnetaylorcorbett.com/ (official website), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynne_Taylor-Corbett (Wikipedia), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=1480 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0853360/ (Internet Movie Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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