A beautiful expression of the holiday spirit in the midst of carnage and uncertainty.
By Joel Benjamin
In Fields Where They Lay, a new play by Ricardo Pérez González, is the most potent exploration of the meaning of the Christmas spirit this holiday season. Although its anti-war message would resonate anytime, In Fields’ central scene, an extemporized celebration of Christmas between English and German soldiers in the midst of the carnage of the War to End All Wars, is a moving testament to the message of peace on earth. This is theater at its most expressive—intimate, perfectly staged and beautifully acted.
The New Ohio Theatre in the West Village is hosting this Dreamscape Theatre production, directed by Brad Raimondo. On Clifton Chadick’s ever-changing set of moveable platforms inhabited by a motley crew of young soldiers, the characters squabble, love, write letters and make war. Each soldier has his own back story. They include: the sixteen-year-olds who joined up to keep each other company, a relationship that delicately borders on the romantic; the one with the Germanic name—“it’s Alsatian!”—who has to constantly defend himself, mostly with an ultra macho stance; the naïve young husband and father whose letters become the emotional backbone of the show and his young wife whose reports from home help keep him going; the savvy Jamaican who must endure and rise above bigotry; the sergeant, the only professional soldier in the platoon, who lords it over his men; and a snobby lieutenant who is in over his head and makes one too many mistakes.
Mr. Pérez González tiptoes around stereotypes here, but avoids caricature by close attention to the moment-to-moment details of soldiers at war, helped by a cast of terrific actors and a director who is clearly in synch with the playwright and who never allows the emotional scenes to become maudlin. Mr. Raimondo’s pacing is expert, allowing long moments of calm to alternate with the more frenetic scenes.
Even though some of the English accents seem a tad strained, the actors are all terrific: Nicholas Carter (the letter-writer, Private Anderson) & best friend to Spencer Davis Milford’s Private Jones; Stephen James Anthony (the young husband, Private Pfeiffer) & Christine Perrotta (the sole female as Mrs. Pfeiffer); Jeff Gonzalez (the one with the suspiciously German name); Equiano Mosieri (the Jamaican), Zack Calhoon (the overbearing Sergeant Woodward); Joe Kolbow (the effete Lieutenant Jeffries); plus Justin Ayer, Kevin Necciai and Mickey Rafalski.
The lighting design by Wilburn Bonnell and the sound design by Mark Van Hare were integral in telling the story as were the period perfect costumes by Caitlin Cisek (which might have shown more wear and tear).
In Fields Where They Lay also incorporates songs and background music supervised by Anna Ebbesen whose choices were organically integrated into the fabric of the play.
*Photos: Hugh Mackey
In Fields Where They Lay – December 5-27, 2014
New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher St., between Greenwich St. & Washington St. New York, NY
Tickets and Information: www.dreamscapestheatre.org or call Vendini at 888-596-1027
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission