Playwright Jessica Dickey has an eye and an ear for history, and her 2014 play about three Civil War re-enactors, two men and a woman, beautifully lays it out for us how odd this breed of human can be.
Tall and intense Cal (Ian Merrigan), laid-back Tom (John Sloan in his usual thorough manner) and first-timer Leah (played intelligently by Jennifer Chambers), who is as sensitive as she is inquisitive, have just finished a day of punctilious “fighting” the 1863 Civil War Battle of Gettysburg on the authentic field in Pennsylvania. These folk take these reenactments seriously, especially in the authenticity of the fightin’-men’s clothing, their re-created props, and the pride in getting it all correct, which is why some of them (Cal especially) resent women playing soldiers instead of just enacting hoop-skirted wives and daughters, or even camp-followers (at a time when women who followed Union General Hooker and his men earned their irritating sobriquet).
Exhausted, the three lay out their individual prejudices about the event just finished, their squabbles over emotional minutia, and what it all means to them.
As professionally directed by Tara Karsian, her cast is led to superb conclusions about their inner-cores and external looks, how these folk take what lessons they’ve learned, and apply them to their real lives. It’s quite funny and, surprisingly, emotional.
In front of a stylized 19th Century flag (painted on three six-foot panels), Cal’s rage, Tom’s concerns about his Jewishness, and Leah’s desperate need to belong to something larger than herself, makes this trio fascinating and director Karsian’s insights into their characters allows her actors to truly shine in these roles.
As a footnote, I have performed as Thomas Jefferson in a one-man show for just under four decades now, which has allowed me further insights of my own about taking a character you admire to the distance. These four principals, plus the writer, have accomplished this, in spades. I welcome seeing more of Ms. Dickey’s work, and at 75-minutes, you’ll want more of this show yourself.
Row After Row plays through May 31st, 2015, in repertory with A Small Fire, at the Echo Theatre Company’s home in the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village, CA 90039. Tickets: www.EchoTheaterCompany.com or 310.307.3753.