Monday, November 28, 2016

A Civil War Christmas—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland



United We Stand…
This Christmas offering with music and songs, as told from incidents in the American Civil War, is written by Paula Vogel, directed by Paul Angelo and produced in collaboration with Staged!  Music direction is by Andrew Bray and dance/movement choreographer is Kristen Mun.  Original music by Daryl Waters with the collaboration of various local musicians including Okaidja Afroso, James Beaton, Darrell Grant, Brian Adrian Koch, Edna Vázquez, Holcombe Waller, and Mark & LaRhonda Steele.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

Once upon a time, some 2,000 years ago, three Wise Men followed a star hoping to discover a salvation for all at the end of that arc.  Less than 200 years ago, three wise men, Lincoln, Grant and Lee attempted, again, to find a common ground for all beings.  Nowadays, we are still engaged in that immortal struggle to find a Peace on Earth and Good Will for All Mankind.  It seems to be a Battle that will be waged for many Ages to come…

The time:  Christmas, mid-1860’s, during the Civil War in these United States.  President Lincoln (Ted Rooney) is trying not only to mend a Nation, but find the perfect Christmas present for his beloved wife, Mary Todd (Susannah Mars).  But his task for this Nation, seems insurmountable, as there is still major disarray on the fabric of that blanket which covers our Land.  An Afro-American mother, Mrs. Keckley (Ayanna Berkshire), seamstress to Mrs. Lincoln, is mourning the loss of her son, George (Blake Stone), a soldier fallen in battle and who’s memories of him are still vivid.

Another Afro-American mother, Hannah (Andrea Whittle), has successfully smuggled her daughter, Jessa (Miya Zolkoske) into Washington, D. C., only to lose track of her in the bustling city.    Another little girl, Raz (Kai Tomizawa), has escaped toward the throbbing metropolis also, with her horse, Silver (John San Nicolas), looking for a better life.  Meanwhile, an Afro-American Union soldier, Bronson (Vin Shambry), has declared lethal war on all Rebs, declaring, “take no prisoners!,” after his beloved, Rose, (Crystal Ann Muñoz), was kidnapped by the enemy.

Back on the home-front, Lincoln claims to have a recurring dream where he is aboard a Captain-less ship, sailing toward a distant horizon, just out of reach.  His security agent, Lamon (Jimmy Garcia), is equally concerned about his welfare, as are cabinet members, including John Hay (Laila Murphy).  And their fears are well-founded, as conspirators, John Wilkes Booth (Val Landrum), the Surratt’s and Louis Weichmann (Seth Rue) are meeting secretly to avenge the South by kidnapping the President.  All these elements, combined with music and songs from that era, through the company of players, including Amy Hakanson, bring you a Christmas, perhaps, little known but unforgettable.

This cross-cultural and cross-gender cast, playing many roles from a dozen different stories, bring a message for the upcoming Season, conveying that the quilt that binds us together may be multi-colored and multi-layered and, woven together, it forms a protective covering that benefits all.  Celebrate Diversity in all its many-splendored incarnations.  These stories, from a by-gone Age, remind us of that but, perhaps, in my opinion, the actual blending of the mix of talents involved, and how they cross all borders of talents and humanness, to present this production, may be the best example of how we can form “a more perfect union.”  Angelo has certainly seen to that with his wise casting of the show, onstage and off.
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The cast is all first-rate, as I’ve seen many of them onstage before and lauded their talents.  This production encompasses a microcosm of the world and, perhaps, humanity, as the stories may be specific but the message of tolerance and acceptance is universal.  It is said that “a child shall lead them,” for in that innocence, perhaps, we may all re-discover ourselves, and our purpose, individually and collectively.

I recommend this show, as it is a perfect Christmas Card for this generation.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.