Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Good War"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"The Good War"

Adapted from Studs Terkel
by David H. Bell & Craig Carnelia
Directed by Bobby Cronin
Music Direction by Todd C. Gordon

Scenic Design by Ryan McGettigan
Lighting Design by Christopher Ostrom
Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley
Sound Design/Engineer John Stone
Production Manager Dave Brown
Technical Director Jason Cotting
Production Assistants Laura Kinkaid, Ian O'Connor
Production Stage Manager Josiah A. Stone

Private Smalls......Jason Bowen
Woman...........Laura DeGuacomo
Man 1.............Jerry Bisantz
Man 2..........Steve Gagliastro
Man 3.............Brendan McNab
Man 4.............Brad Simanski
Man 5..............Mark Linehan
Man 6...............Paul Shafer
Man 7...............Peter Haydu

Guitar/Banjo.....Bill Buonocore
Bass...........Brian Grochowski
Drums.............Mick Lewander

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, I was nine. The first movie I ever saw without my parents was called "Bataan". And for years I wanted to fly airplanes. Radio, movies, magazines and books made the Second World War "real" to me in romantic, patriotic ways. It was "my" war --- in a way the Korean Conflict wasn't, even though in 1952 I was drafted and spent a total of eighteen Days in the Army before discharged because of asthma. Any wonder then that seeing THE GOOD WAR and MR. ROBERTS in the same 72 hours felt a little like re-living my youth?

For those reasons, my view of these plays may differ from yours. "The Good War" is drawn the personal interviews Studs Terkel made with the people who fought and lived it, merged and selected into "A musical collage of World War II" by David H. Bell and Craig Carnelia. The songs --- a few familiar, several surprising --- and photographs, mostly from the time, fading into one another as a background, are the sort that bring sudden unexpected hot tears of recognition to people my age or near. To me some of the material may sound familiar, but the vital humanity in the words brings that time vividly alive. And some of the details will seem surprisingly new to everyone.

Director Bobby Cronin treats the cast as a unit. They march precisely in step up and down half a dozen stair-flights on Ryan McGettigen's multi-levelled set, so that the blocking of the show is often more vertical than horizontal. A B-17 gunner sits, calmly looping and hanging invisble bands of amunition to prevent his machine-gun from jamming, while talking of the thirty missions over enemy territory everyone was expected to fly. "I flew once as replacement in another plane, and I was scared. These guys weren't my crew, guys I knew and trusted." The song "Comin' in on A Wing And A Prayer" hung in the background, first almost as a hymn, but quickening with jazz rhythms in a reprise.

"We had a softball team before the war," begins a soldier from the Phillipines, and throughout his monologue the cast, on all levels, whips an invisible ball around the field over and over. The text is about the Bataan Death-March, ending "of that entire team, I was the only one who lived through it."

The lone Black relates the story of a Navy crew handling all sorts of explosive munitions, when an explosion killed dozens, and the next day stunned survivors refused an order to go back into the hold to do it again. They were court-marshalled for mutiny.

The lone woman cradles an infant as she talks of the Blitz' bombs coming closer and closer every night. She becomes an American girl pressured to marry someone, anyone, before he goes overseas. She exchanges a locket with his picture with the guy she's engaged to --- and later opens a letter to find it in the dead soldier's effects.

Sailors, soldiers, airmen, WAACs, even a German or two get a moment. A row of men from all continents read paragraphs from half a dozen opened books, then clap them shut, one by one. There are dozens of costume- and character-changes as the action skips across the world from one "theater of war" to another.

"We did it before, and we can do it again," the chorus sings, "and we will do it again." It was the good war because we all knew what we were fighting for, and who we were fighting against. There were SNAFUs and setbacks, and death aplenty. But, like this cast, the world was, for a brief time, united. The afternoon I was in the Stoneham Theatre, everyone else seemed to be my age. As an audience, though, we were united as well.

( a k a larry stark )

"The Good War" (10 September - 4 October)
395 Main Street, STONEHAM, MA
1 (781) 279-2200

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide