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Reviving Civil War, and South End Theatre, at Once

by Mark Pizzato

Reviving Civil War, and South End Theatre, at Once

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Picture by Tonya Budsworth

March 6, 2015

Photo caption: The cast of Shiloh Rules (top row, left to right) -- Glynnis O'Donoghue, Donna Scott, Darlene Parker, Celeste Marcone. (Bottom row, l-r) Stephanie Gardner, Polly Adkins. Photo by Director Tonya Bludsworth.

Territory is a dangerous thing. Humans can override their most basic survival instinct, dying for a patch of ground that others will inherit. Later generations reenact their battles, on the same ground, in a game of ghostly honor. With Shiloh Rules, written by Doris Baizley, the spirit of theatre is also returning to the South End, evoking nostalgia and laughter.

At 4 a.m. in the Shiloh National Military Park, Cecilia DeLaunay Pettison tutors young LucyGale Scruggs about authenticity on the Rebel side, as they prepare for the battle. (The former is played with convincing intensity by Polly Adkins, the latter by Stephanie Gardner with modulated bursts of anxiety and enthusiasm.)  Likewise, Clara May Abbott, the “Angel of Antietam” (Celeste Marcone), instructs Meg Barton (Glynnis O’Donoghue) on Yankee nursing techniques of the 19th century. Each side offers poignant moments of loss, courage, and purpose, mixed with the comic ironies of their trans-historical identities. Costumes add an important dimension, too, from the older women’s dark propriety to LucyGale’s patchwork dress with a hillbilly hat and Meg’s white apron with sacrificial petticoat.

More laughs arrive with Dariene Parker’s black Park Ranger Wilson, who spreads citations like a tree shedding leaves yet cannot beat the white people until she joins their game. Her expressive eyes and wide smile offer cartoonish commentaries on racial, historical, and property policing issues. Donna Scott’s boisterous Widow Beckwith also appears as a Brechtian profiteer mocking and manipulating the reenactors and even Ranger Wilson.

Sound effects become important, especially in the second act with the offstage cannons and thunderstorm.  Unfortunately, traffic sounds from outside the Charlotte Art League building mar the first act’s dialog and 4 a.m. setting. But they fit better in the second act with the concerns of Ranger Wilson about offstage traffic being blocked by the reenactment armies, as the park opens several hours later. The CAL artwork around the small stage setup, in one corner of the building, also reflects in this show the interplay between aesthetics, conflicting histories, and ghostly territories.

Props and costumes, as Civil War artefacts, whether genuine or reproduced, transform several of the characters: a lost locket, a canteen, period pistols and a rifle, medical equipment, and soldiers’ uniforms donned by the women.  (Kudos to Props Mistress Stacy Brogden and Costumer Luci Wilson.)  The show may also work this magic on the Charlotte audience, evoking laughter and insights about the Southern penchant to relive the past at certain historical sites, for good and ill, perpetuating romantic ideals and rivalries from generations ago. This also reflects, ironically, how we have in the past let various theatre companies in this city perish with the changing demographics of artists and audiences, but might now help them to survive.

 Mark Pizzato is Professor of Theatre at UNC Charlotte and author of Inner Theatres of Good and Evil (2011), Ghosts of Theatre and Cinema in the Brain (2006), Theatres of Human Sacrifice (2005), and Edges of Loss (1998).  His plays have been published by Aran Press and his screenplays, produced as short films, have won New York Film Festival and Minnesota Community Television awards. See his website at   ..     . . 


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Tags: Civil War, Tonya Bludsworth, Doris Baizley, Donna Scott Productions, Charlotte Art League

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