It only takes a cursory skimming of the Wikipedia article on the First World War, also called the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars,” to remember the incredible mess it was. How the participants kept it all straight for over four bloody years is a question; but, perhaps, a larger question is: did they ever keep it all straight?
A series of ridiculously interconnected agreements and alliances converged around a barely important assassination, and then the puzzle pieces just started falling into place for a jigsaw war that had no real goal and less purpose. Which raises another question, of course — who profited from this carnage? And as for who lost, well, most of the answer to that question is the world, for the most direct product of that war was World War II, which attempted to resolve the mess but apparently only exacerbated it, and the larger loss was the millions upon millions of slaughtered young fighting men and innocent civilians.
So, it is not surprising that the set for the ArtsCenter Stage production of the anti-war musical Oh, What a Lovely War! is a blood-splattered space, with two fox holes or trench spaces (although they seem to be underused) and a couple of risers from which speechifying can happen, designed by James Carnahan. And despite the merriment — or embedded in it — it is an angry show, jabbing its thumb into the eye of all the decision makers who pressed the massacres into being. Thus, it is an appropriate reminder, in this second year of the centennial remembrance of World War I, of the proximity and horror that war has always been — especially in a time when most of us are seldom touched by the wars that we are still engaged in, seeing 10-second video loops of the same ugly scene float across a news screen as voice-over tells one full minute’s worth of action.
Joan Littlewood is given final credit for the 1960’s authorship of this script, having gone through several lives after beginning as a radio production. ArtsCenter Stage director and choreographer Hope Alexander, who is new to the area, but has years of experience, manages her troupe briskly through the history of the war in song a dance, weaving them around the two open pits carefully, and making occasional use of them. The tempo is quick, the action lively, and the satire pretty snarky.
Old songs from the period are reworded with sometimes crushing effect to chastise the leadership in all the countries involved. The band, consisting of Matthew Glosson (drums), Andrew McCleney (bass), Julie Oliver (trumpet), and Leslie Wickham (piano), supports the vocals and provides incidental music. Costume designer Merrisa Erickson provides esoteric and funky costumes that enhance the mood of the show.
The cast is wonderful, well-rehearsed, and enthusiastic, although a couple of them tend to confuse yelling with projecting which makes it hard for the audience to understand their words. Notable for their performances, however, are Marleigh Purgar-McDonald, a sixth grader who plays the part of Jack, the innocent observer of extraordinary brutalities.
The French background of Germain Choffart informs his incredible French gibberish as well as his posturings and manners. His final song, “La Chanson de Craonne,” which was sung by mutinying French soldiers in 1917, rebelling against the loss of 120,000 soldiers in a three-day battle, will pull tears for sure.
Also, Ian Bowater heads up the cast and pretty much narrates the story, dancing and singing with professional aplomb. Likewise outstanding are the performances of Julie Oliver, who doubles as trumpeter and singer/dancer, and Jerri Lynn Schulke and Chloe Oliver.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow ….
John McCrae (1872-1918)
SECOND OPINION: May 16th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7454; and May 14th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/x219728347/Oh-What-a-war-of-contradictions (Note: You must subscribe to read this article); May 13th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/oh-what-a-lovely-war/Event?oid=4426403.
ArtsCenter Stage presents OH, WHAT A LOVELY WAR! at 8 p.m. May 21-23 and 3 p.m. May 24 in the Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro, North Carolina 27510.
TICKETS: $16-$18 ($14-$16 students and seniors and $12-$14 ArtsCenter Friends), except $12-$14 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-929-2787 or http://www.etix.com/.
SHOW: http://www.artscenterlive.org/events/oh-lovely-war-4/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/814452578592611/.
ARTSCENTER STAGE MAIN-STAGE SEASON: http://www.artscenterlive.org/artscenter-stage/artscenter-stage-season/.
VENUE: http://www.artscenterlive.org/, https://www.facebook.com/artscenterlive, and https://twitter.com/ArtsCenterlive.
ARTSCENTER BLOG: http://www.artscenterlive.org/tag/blog/.
Oh, What a Lovely War! (1963 West End and 1964 Broadway musical revue): http://ibdb.com/show.php?id=6678 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oh,_What_a_Lovely_War! (Wikipedia).
Joan Littlewood (book, 1914-2002): http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/news/JoanLittlewood.htm (The British Theatre Guide), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=15451 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Littlewood (Wikipedia).
Hope Alexander (Durham, NC director and choreographer): https://www.facebook.com/hopealexander65 (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.