Before Thursday night’s performance, Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy producer Adam Twiss described HSN’s world-premiere production of Sharon Talbot’s Civil War drama, A Field of Glory, as a “work in progress”; and that it surely is. The question is, “Is A Field of Glory original enough to capture the audience’s imagination and to inspire other producers to produce it?”
New York playwright and performer Sharon Talbot plays her own great-great grandmother, the irrepressible Rosalia Taylor, with pluck, in this talky two-character play, which exploits a wartime family tragedy, exhumes an appalling skeleton from the Taylor family closet, and tacks on a bit of moonshine about the Taylors freeing their slaves and building them a little red schoolhouse to teach them their ABCs, so that they can take their place in the New World Order that Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman planned to inflict on Southern planters, such as the Taylors. What A Field of Glory doesn’t do is smoothly interweave the two subplots into the main plot.
A Field of Glory is set in Rosalia Taylor’s beloved plantation garden — once her pride and joy, now inexplicably bedraggled. It is a sweltering day in early April of 1862. Mrs. Taylor is puttering around when her son John Speed Taylor (played Raleigh actor Jesse Janowsky) arrives unexpectedly — in a bloody uniform — for a fateful mother-and-child reunion.
Although he claims to be home on leave, John is most likely a deserter from the Confederate Army of Mississippi, whom the Union Army of Tennessee has just defeated at the Battle of Shiloh, fought April 6 and 7, 1862, in Hardin County in southwestern Tennessee. John delivers a harrowing first-person account of Seeing the Elephant during this epic battle in which 3,500 soldiers paid the ultimate price and more than 20,000 others were grievously wounded, captured, or listed as missing.
At this point in A Field of Glory, I think audience members of a certain age will subconsciously begin to compare the events of A Field of Glory to miraculous escape from the hangman’s noose and the thwarted family reunion in Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” with its whiplash-inducing twist ending. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is set in the neighboring state of Alabama; but as far as A Field of Glory is concerned, it is too close for comfort.
As a lifelong Civil War buff who came of age during the Centennial and has walked many of the battlefields, I wanted to like A Field of Glory a lot more than I ultimately did. The problem was compounded by Sharon Talbot’s shaky performance; she had opening-night jitters on the second night.
Jesse Janowsky did his best to bring the Taylor’s soldier son John to full, glorious life; but Talbot’s script and her fumbling of lines kept Janowsky’s performance from being all that it could have been.
Surely, Talbot and Janowsky will get better as the play’s run progresses; but I’m guessing that the Hot Summer Night patrons who have the events of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” fresh in their minds will find A Field of Glory a lot less satisfying than those who have never heard of Ambrose Bierce.
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. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the July 17th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/07/sharon-talbots-civil-war-drama-a-field-of-glory-makes-its-world-premiere-at-hot-summer-nights/.)
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents A FIELD OF GLORY, a world-premiere play by Sharon Talbot, at 8 p.m. July 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.
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).
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 review 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/.