Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Saving Captain Stanhope

"Journey's End" at the Belasco Theatre, February 13, 2007

Following a successful revival in London, R. C. Sherriff's "Journey's End" has been revived at the Belasco. Written in 1928, it's a powerful indictment of war, following the days leading up to a WWI battle in the trenches in France. All the class delineations of the British miltary are intact, officers "upstairs" and enlisted "downstairs" although their physical locations are reversed in the trench fortifications. There's also a certain reversal of age too, higher ranked officers are recent university graduates and lower-level officers from the professional class of older men.

Captain Stanhope (Hugh Dancy) has been commanding his unit in this location for nearly 3 years. The experience and stress have taken their toll and he fuels his courage and hides his terror in whiskey. Mr. Dancy, making his Broadway debut gives terrific intensity and self-torture in this role, originated by no less than Lawrence Olivier.

Rotating in for a six-day tour is Lieutenant Osborne (Boyd Gaines). A school master, everyone refers to him as "Uncle." Mr. Gaines masks Osborne's fear in devotion to the young officers he supports, giving him a bit of a Michael Redgrave flavor. Nice job with the accent, I thought.

Jefferson Mays returns to Broadway for the first time since his tour-de-force performance in "I Am My Own Wife" as the officer's cook, Private Mason. Mr. Mays doesn't mince nearly as much here, but does give us a bit of the fey British simp.

2nd Lieutenant Trotter is a bit of a stock character, large, blustering but benign and caring as delivered by John Ahlin.

As Raleigh, Stark Sands (also making his Broadway debut) brings the needed youthful innocence as Stanhope's childhood friend to this fatal character. There is a fuzzy line about which one could wonder what the extent of the relationship exactly was between Raleigh and Stanhope. Stanhope had been linked with Raleigh's sister prior to joining the war, but is his affection for Raleigh a sublimation of his love for the sister or is his affection for the sister a sublimation of his love for Raleigh?

Dancy's Stanhope is nearly devastated over having to decide which of his officers must make a dangerous raid on the German entrenchment on the other side of the 70-yard wide no-man's-land that separates the two sides. His near-disintegration over the decision is heart-breaking.

Jonathan Fensom's set and costumes are eerily accurate. One could almost smell the earth of the underground bunker, complete with dirt floor and mud puddles. Jason Taylor's lights, seeming a bit too dim at first, did support the darkness in which these men were forced to flounder. It was Gregory Clarke's overwhelmingly effective sound design that brought the reality of war into the theatre. The bombing of the German attack in Act II wa truly frightening.

It's interesting to see how the truths of the human side of war is portrayed onstage. Such has gone on since the time of the Greeks. Such folly that recognizing it changes nothing in the "real world."

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