(photo courtesy : Brian Newell)
Written by Alina Mae Wilson
As one might surmise from the title “The Killer Angels, Soldiers of Gettysburg”, this is a play about the Battle of Gettysburg and the soldiers that fought in it. It’s an attempt to peer closely into the hearts and minds of men fighting on the opposite sides of the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil and effectively “humanize” them. Whether they ever lacked the humanization this play seeks to grant them is a question worth exploring in and of itself, but I digress. “The Killer Angels, Soldiers of Gettysburg” is pretty much a social studies lecture–habitually informative, occasionally thrilling, but often dull.
We are in the final days, nay hours, before the Battle of Gettysburg. The stage hosts the opposing armies, one on either side. Colonel Joshua “Lawrence” Chamberlain and his ragtag group of regular soldiers plus a band of exhausted mutineers are fighting for the North, while Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet strut around exuding confidence for a Southern victory. It’s very Mighty Ducks. However by the end of the battle all that childlike familiarity is gone due to the brutal slaughtering (don’t worry there’s no actual gore) of thousands of men.
The set is creative but if you are sitting too near the front it might wear you out. The stage extends all the way from one side of the intimate theater to the other, dividing it straight down the middle, so if you want to be near the actors you are afforded the opportunity simply by sitting in the front row. Your wish will be granted, you will be close enough to touch them (I would not advise this of course) but sitting too close in the front and watching them go back and forth across the dividing platform will leave your neck positively aching. “The Killer Angels” simply aren’t strong enough to put you into a reverie for the entire performance. I do however appreciate the clear divide established for the benefit of the armies. The uniforms are just as good as one might want them to be, realistic and neat (whenever they are supposed to be, the ragtags are obviously a little more unkempt). Sitting near the front will get you a whiff of some good Southern tobacco, so be prepared for that.
I mentioned earlier that the Killer Angels aren’t strong enough to put you into a “reverie”. Allow me to clarify: the cast is predominantly excellent. But–and I realize that this is an attempt at depth and humanization–the intimate conversations that the soldiers have with one another are not unique enough or fascinating enough to keep a person at rapt attention. The benefit of their long-winded speeches to one another is that they are possibly/probably the actual feelings of the real men who were present at Gettysburg. But in that regard, it seems more accurate to classify this as a history lesson rather than actual enjoyability. Our main excitement comes from either battle strategy, or battles–the actual combat scenes are nothing short of thrilling. Listening to their responses to surprise movements by the enemy, watching the Generals interact with their fellows and their subordinates is fascinating. But when they settle down around campfires–both literally and figuratively–to wax philosophical, you’ll start to watch the clock.
Most of the actors are superb. Starring as General James Longstreet, Brock Joseph simply could not be better. Every moment he is onstage he is captivating in his determination to keep a level head and win the war without getting overly confident. General Robert E. Lee is played by Brian Kojac, and thinking of him I am reminded of nothing so much as a stern and lovable grandfather. Special mention of the night goes to Michael Keeney, who plays General Lewis Armistead with so much fervor, Southern pride, and a desire to lead the charge that it’s almost hilarious.
“The Killer Angels, Soldiers of Gettysburg” is interesting but not fascinating.