Produced by: City Lights
Featuring: Drew Benjamin Jones, Max Tachis, Caitlin Papp, Allison Meneley, Karen DeHart, Paulino Deleal, Ivette Deltoro, Nik Huggan, Johanna Hembry, Jabob Marker, Joshua Messick, Danraj Rajasansi, Jeremy Ryan, Max Song, Mary Lou Torre, Damian Vega and Michael J. West
Directed by: Kit Wilder
When: November 20 through December 21, 2014
Where: City Lights Theater Company, 529 South Second Street, San Jose, California
Tickets: $17-$34. Call 408-295-4200 or visit http://cltc.org.
on the finding of peace
and brotherhood in wartime
a promising new play, gets an uneven world premiere
Congratulations to Kit Wilder and Jeffrey Bracco, who have written a fine new play, "Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War."
The play, which features lots of fine singing, mostly of Christmas carols, in English and in German, is getting its world premiere at City Lights in San Jose, directed by Wilder.
Opening night was a little uneven, with some excellent elements, but also some flubbed lines and not very well fleshed out characterizations. But it's basically a good play, and it's likely it will build on itself.
Ultimately, it is quite moving.
"Truce" is based on Christmas of 1914, when British and German troops stopped killing each other long enough to celebrate the holiday together. It's based on true events. There are historic photographs of English and German soldiers playing soccer on that day, and trading tins of bully beef for cigars and cigarettes.
Such truces happened several times through that war, not just at Christmas of 1914, but they didn't stop the killing. By 1918, millions had died from the violence. And from disease.
Still, it makes a nice story on which Wilder and Bracco build their framework: A British writer, Tommy Williams, shamed by his father, marches off to do his duty. A German soldier, Georg Krieger (German for soldier or warrior; one who makes war), goes off to war because it is what is expected of him.
We meet parents on both sides. We meet Tommy's wife and Georg's sister. And Georg's brother, whom he fails to protect in the fighting. We get a quick lesson in the history of fractured Europe in the early 20th century.
And we meet Anna Friedman, a nurse, who keeps asking Georg, "Why do you do it?" And she introduces him to some of the wounded soldiers 80 percent of those who are wounded will die from their wounds, she tells him.
The troops in the trenches on both sides are likable guys, and on Christmas, they yell songs at each other across no-man's land, the Brits starting with "It's A Long Way to Tipperary" and the Germans answering with "Deutschlandlied" ("Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles"). But before long they are singing Christmas carols, with lovely harmonies in English and German. "Stille Nacht" is "Silent Night." "O Tannenbaum" is "Oh, Christmas Tree."
But, they are all young men. The old men, the leaders on both sides, are alarmed by the fraternization of troops, and do all they can to stop it.
Which is a bit too cute. Blame the war on the adults; the kids just want to play.
Still, it's basically what happened, and what still happens in war. It's the young guys who go off to do the fighting and dying, usually. Which makes this play, as they say, timeless and universal.
Drew Benjamin Jones is a fine Tommy, an intelligent, talented man with a beautiful, loving wife, who is fearful of war, but more afraid of his father.
Allison Meneley is delightful as the beautiful wife, as the story is artfully told in epistolary fashion, with her and Jones taking turns reading his letters to her. She often smiles, when happy with Tommy and also when singing, and her smile is as radiant as the sun. Well worth seeing.
Max Tachis, oft-seen at City Lights, didn't exactly bring Georg to life for me, but is solid, and ably carries the heart-wrenching ending to fruition. Caitlin Papp is excellent as the nurse, Anna, bringing that character to full realization with the show's finest pure acting.
Poor Damian Vega had an actor's nightmare moment on opening night, when he slipped in his lines and had to repeat a bit to get going again. Ouch. He was otherwise quite good as both Tommy's father and as Sir Horace, one of the old men who want the war to continue.
Performances among the soldiers, townspeople and so forth were a bit uneven; I wondered if maybe they hadn't had enough rehearsal time.
Jacob Marker, as a German soldier, and Max Sorg, as a Brit, were both solid in a war-movie kind of way. Marker's hair and mustache, fairly closely matching some of the photos from the time, were great, and gave him a kind of Flying Karamazov Brothers look.
The singing was wonderful throughout. Lots of Christmas carols.
Ron Gasparinetti's scene design, using lots of shipping palettes, worked quite well. I liked that they painted the stage floor to look like frozen mud. Jane Lambert handled costume design, and it was all quite good, with the soldiers wearing authentic uniforms, as announced before the show by a very excited Lisa Mallette, City Lights' executive artistic director.
The uniforms were way too clean for guys who'd been sleeping in mud for weeks or months, but as we've noticed before, City Lights seems like to keep the costumes clean.
George Psarras did an excellent job with musical arrangements, original music and sound design. As the actors watch an airplane we can't see fly overhead, we follow its progress with our ears. Very nicely done. Nick Kumamoto did a fine job with lighting, and with the projections that illuminated the history with photographs and maps.
Email John Orr at email@example.com