CENTERVILLE — As the Fourth of July roles around, it is a time to celebrate the freedom of our nation. Yet, freedom comes at a great price, as we are reminded in Centerpoint Legacy Theatre’s latest production, Civil War.
As the play begins, both Union and Confederate soldiers are anxious to get on the field and teach the other side a lesson. Southern slaves pray that the war might be the end of their living nightmare. Yet as the war wanes, so do the soldiers’ strength, commanders’ stamina, and slaves’ patience. Ambition turns to anguish as soldier after soldier falls on the field, never to rise again. What started as a conflict of states turned into a war of brothers.
As Director Marilyn Montgomery stated in the program, “Beginnings of things are often worth noting.” From the beginning of the show, the audience is taken back to the Old South as a fiddle player welcomes them into the theatre. Throughout the performance, pictures from the war are projected on screens surrounding the stage, bringing with them a sense of the reality and gravity of the war. Rather than focusing on one particular character, the play shows the war from the point of view of many who were involved in the battles. Commanders, soldiers, wives, slaves, and nurses alike share their experiences and heartaches as the war progresses.
The actors each portrayed their parts so well that by the end of the play I too was anxious for the end of the war, if only to relieve myself from the sorrow that weighed upon the theatre as the war dragged on. Deedee Richens and Trevor Jerome (TTHS cast) play Clayton and Bessie Toler, a young slave couple ripped apart as they are sold to different plantations. Richens had the trodden down yet defiant look of one who had seen the worst yet hoped for the best. Jerome, who also played Frederick Douglass, easily slipped in and out of the two roles.
Scott Van Dyke and Scott Wetsel (TThS cast) fill the emotional yet demanding roles of the Union and Confederate commanders. Both realistically displayed the solemnity and honor of their call. In what was perhaps the most moving scene in the play, the commanders sing “Judgment Day,” describing the weight on their shoulders as they send their soldiers to the field, knowing that many would not return. “I pray to God I’m right, then send the boys off to fight.” Although I am familiar with the effects of war, never before had I realized the great responsibility of the generals, with so many lives in their hands. Each “victory” came at a heavy price and each decision cost more lives.
The costumes (designed by Jennifer Johnson) and set pieces (designed by Cliff Cole) worked together to depict the devastating results of the war. In the beginning, the solders’ uniforms were pressed and clean. Yet as the battles continued, the costumes were faded, ripped and threadbare, just like their hopes. A large, tattered flag hung across the stage as a reminder of the war that tore a nation and brought it to its knees.
The music was moving, yet at times it was overpowering, drowning out the actors. Although the play was well done, the war seemed endless, making the play itself drag on and taking an emotional toll on me. Towards the end I found myself anxious for the war and the play to end so I could return to the carefree life I had compared to the Hell they were all experiencing. Yet the show serves a much-needed purpose.
April 12, 1861 marked the beginning of a long, hard, heartbreaking war. Yet, as the director points out, “perhaps what is more important (than beginnings) is what comes from beginnings.” Out of this beginning came a painful lesson of the price of war and freedom, but a lesson we can all learn from. As George Santayana put it, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Centerpoint’s Civil War stands as an emotional reminder of the war that tore a nation and the many lives lost for the sake of freedom that will not be forgotten.