Last evening I had the pleasure of seeing The Civil War Remembered, at the Eclectic Company Theater in Valley Village. I had wanted to go to this gem on Laurel Canyon Boulevard for quite some time and I am glad I waited. This play is energetic, truthful and honest in showcasing the many important individuals that were a part of our American Civil War. One does not need to be a civil war buff to enjoy this grippingly honest play that represents the lives of real people during this time in our history. Few are left untouched when the southern states succeed from the nation in 1861.
I mistakenly thought that this production was solely about Mary Todd Lincoln and her days in the White House. However, this play was about so much more than one individual’s life. It is about the many lives of heroic people who believed deeply in a cause that tore our nation apart. It begins with the story of Mrs. Lincoln on the eve that her husband wins the election for the President of the United States. Marbry Steward speaks with conviction and style as Mary Todd Lincoln. She portrays Mrs. Lincoln with panache, spirit and gentleness. Keep in mind; this is not your Sally Field Mary Todd, angry and distant. Oh no, this is a gentler, kinder woman who is saddened and haunted by the deaths of her young sons. This woman loves her husband deeply and relishes the time she has with him on long walks or carriage rides while helping the soldiers and their families during the devastation of this war. Ms. Steward is close to perfect in this role as she captures the essence of a woman who is strong and loving.
Especially compelling was the sad story of two brothers who chose to fight on opposite sides of the civil war. Never to speak or see each other again after enlisting, we eagerly followed their stories with curiosity and awe. Roger K Weiss and Zack Zoda become the brothers; William and Wesley Culp. Two young men who both zealously believe in the right to fight for their convictions. The audience was moved deeply as their sad fate was told through the energetic performances of these fine actors.
As the story continues and characters emerge on stage to share their history of triumph and tragedy; one of my other favorites is the black journalist Thomas Morris Chester, played by a very fine actor, Richard Harris. This is a special man who rose to the ranks of war correspondence during this time of slavery and hatred. His story is told by Mr. Harris in a strong and vivid voice. In fact, everyone in this production spoke their lines with a vivid flair and spirit necessary to convey to the audience the essence of the real people they were portraying.
Of course it is impossible to speak or watch a story about the Civil War without including our 16th president Mr. Abraham Lincoln. It was delightful to witness such a fine portrayal of him by David Pinion. It is always brave to take on such an iconic figure and portray them with strength and honesty. Although Mr. Pinion is in real life much younger than the real president was during those years, his language and movements across the stage made you wonder if Lincoln was really that gentle and wise a person. His monologues showed us a side of President Lincoln in a sensitive and touching way. One story is told about how the president while dealing with the difficulty and horrors of war, decreed to save the lives of three abandoned kittens he came across. This was a very lovely and touching characterization of one of our most beloved American hero’s.
This show introduces the audience to the history of real people at that time. Each of the nine cast members has a special and well deserved position on stage. All of the stories touch us in a unique and unnerving way. Knowing they are mostly true, it is both interesting and haunting. The musical choices interspersed throughout the scenes; The Last Rose of Summer, Taps, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, is just a few of the tunes that add to the tone and depth of the stories we are witnessing. We are seeing a multi-talented veteran cast that can definitely pull off this production with success.
I would like to thank Maureen Lucy O’Connell who wrote and directed this production.
It is always a mighty task when directing so many people in so many directions. Ms. O’Connell makes it comfortably happen and produces a very cohesive show. The great stories, really good actors, wonderful music, and simple staging make this worthwhile to watch. She has allowed the stories to speak through the actors as they move around the darkened stage. In this way it is easy for the audience to identify with all the characters. It was also very effective to have a back screen with actual pictures of Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, and northern and southern soldiers displayed as the stories unfold.
This play should not be missed. It not only represents an especially important part of American history, but experiencing really good theater is also good for the soul. A special thanks to the producer Siobhan Gilreath, for the insight to give this production the go ahead. Despite the small seating area, it felt comfortable through the 90 plus minutes. At times, the lighting seemed not be timed correctly for all the long monologues, but overall the show worked. The Eclectic Company Theater was the perfect place to experience these intimate tales.
Another thank you to the many cast members; Erin Cote, Richard Harris, J C Henning, Gerard Marzilli, David Pinion, Julianna Pirillo, Roger K Weiss, and Zack Zoda. Hats off to the costume designer Tsebahat Fiseha, Music Consultant:Maureen Lucy O’Connell and the entire crew.
The Eclectic Company Theater was founded in 1989 and is still going strong with president Adrienne Pearson.
Tickets are available for this run on Fridays and Saturdays through October 16, 2016. Contact Spooniad2014@gmail.com or eclecticcompanytheater.org. The theater is located at 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd, Valley Village, CA 91607 (818) 643-1662. Tickets are $20.00.