Through December 12
ALL IS CALM MusicalFare Theatre/Daemen College
By Augustine Warner
Maybe not so much in London, because all monuments can be lost in that great city, but across Great Britain there are World War I monuments memorializing those from that community who died for…King and Country.
Often, there are groups of the same name killed in the slaughter, particularly in the trenches on the Western Front.
If you head east from Paris, you notice villages which look medieval until you look closely from a train window and realize they aren’t old.
They were built after The War to end All Wars to replace what was destroyed in those years of carnage.
There are also many cemeteries, like the one where my great-uncle is buried, green, serene, tree- shaded ranks and files of tombstones, remembering the dead, buried or memorialized bodies lost in battle.
That particular cemetery includes the graves of Joyce Kilmer of “Trees” and Jesse Clipper, a grave of integration in a time when America wasn’t, in his hometown of Buffalo.
In recent years, there has been more recognition that the soldiers on both sides early in the war recognized what was starting and made one last attempt to stop it before things descended to the millions of dead, many lost to all but fading memory because their gravesites are somewhere amidst the mud of No Man’s Land.
That was the Christmas Truce of 1914, when the soldiers declared an armistice and stopped fighting, to sing the hymns and songs of Christmas, to gather together for one burst of light in increasingly dark times and even play some soccer, before the generals ordered it stopped and never allowed such an informal truce again, until the 11th hour of the 11th day of 1918.
For “All is Calm” Peter Rothstein wrote the play and Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach created the vocal arrangements, mostly from the British music of the day, with all music directed in MusicalFare Theatre by Theresa Quinn.
Susan Drozd directed and staged this production show on a stunning set from Dyan Burlingame.
“All is Calm” isn’t a long show, a little more than an hour, with audience members knowing what faces these men in the long years to come.
What holds it all together is a technique which can be a cliché but isn’t here, the words of the men who wrote about what happened, probably in letters home which escaped the enveloping censorship of soldier mail.
The letters were from both sides, since German letters survived, of their participation in the Christmas truce, regiments from Saxony and Bavaria and across the German Empire which was to die itself, as its soldiers did in the next four years.
The British letters recognize how deep into the military structure the disaffection was, letters from centuries-old units like the Scots Guards, the Sherwood Foresters and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
In those early days of the war, those units would have been filled with professional soldiers who came in the early weeks of the war and kept the Germans from overrunning France, as they did a generation later.
For them to break military discipline is a clue to some of the problems which led to the French Army mutiny later in the war.
Here, they go from fighting the war in the early days of trench warfare to drinking and singing and talking with the other side.
And, they sing, from the obvious of “Silent Night” or “Stille Nacht” to the military songs of “Die Wacht am Rhein” or “God Save the King” or “Auld Lang Syne.”
In the end, it’s the haunting bugle of “The Last Post” still played at the great monument to the dead in Ypres.
The city was the site of a series of giant battles, where the Germans first used poisoned gas and hundreds of thousands of soldiers died.
Some of those same soldiers probably participated in the Christmas Truce in Ypres, making the bugle call appropriate for the ghosts which still haunt the fields and cemeteries.
Maybe those ghosts seemingly don’t want the war and their deaths forgotten because every year people die on the old battle lines from World War I explosives which are still there and still lethal.
The story of the Christmas Truce has been probed extensively in recent decades, a very recent book and even Gary Earl Ross’ “The Guns of Christmas” in a past Subversive Theatre production.
It’s all a very different look at war from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” dramatic staging of the Battle of Agincourt, which was fought not all that far from the Western Front of five centuries later.
World War I is never far from human memory now because it concluded with the great 20th Century flu pandemic, with the deaths spreading from the military encampments into the civilian population, affecting the war effort and bringing home mass deaths to the era of mass communications.
Censorship can only suppress so much, even if it probably kept obscured the source of the flu virus which killed so many.
That’s why the Christmas Truce is such a bright spot in human history, a flash of light in the dark days of so many wars fought in the same places over so many centuries.
“All is Calm” is a wonderful production of a wonderful musical.
The theater shutdown of the pandemic means directors of shows which have gone on in recent months have been able to put together strong casts, even if there isn’t a lead role here, but there are highly visible performances from cast members like Darryl Semira, Marc Sacco and Christian Brandjes.
They are all good, with wonderful staging from director Drozd.
And, if you head back into Buffalo from the Daemen campus and go past Bailey, look to your left toward the VA hospital and think of the generations of American soldiers treated there.
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