In Confederates, a new play by James F. Burns, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is a prescient military tactician who sees a clear path to Southern victory the day after the first Battle of Bull Run. It is July 22, 1861 and Jackson and his troops are quartered in the farm house of the Wilmer McLean family outside of Manassas, Virginia.
I can’t stress enough how much fun this show is for anyone with an interest in the Civil War. Playwright James F. Bruns clearly possesses a deep knowledge of the subject matter and the show is chock full of trivia and facts that Civil War buffs will have a ball listening for. (Setting the play in the house of Wilmer McLean is my favorite nod to history since McLean has the distinction of being the only civilian whose two homes played a part in the first and last great battles of the war. This tidbit makes its way into the dialogue in a humorous way that I will leave a mystery for you to discover.)
The dialogue was very natural and correct to the period and evocative of the horrors of war, especially as Lucretia described walking near a river strewn with bodies shortly after the battle.
Richard Fiske was the very embodiment of “Stonewall” Jackson. When he addressed the audience at the opening of the show, I felt that I was in the presence of a staunch statesman. I confess, I sat up a little straighter when his piercing eyes met mine. Fiske portrays Jackson as a humble, deeply spiritual man who is likely smarter than anyone else in the room.
James V. Day played War Secretary Judah P. Benjamin as the perfect foil to Fiske’s Jackson. As War Secretary, Benjamin believed in adherence to order and would hear nothing of Jackson’s plans to march on Washington. A supporter of the institution of slavery, Benjamin went to great pains to explain the South’s “peculiar institution” to the non-slave owning aide-de-camp Sandie (played by Cliff Rooks).
An especially strong performance was given by Meghan Landon as Lucretia. Landon brought great energy to all her scenes and I suspect she is an actress with a bright future on the stage. Lucretia embodies the reaction of the Southern population to the Battle of Bull Run, which, being the first significant loss of life early in the war shocked people and shifted consciousness towards the reality that the war might not be as quick or easy as they had imagined.
It was unfortunate that a few of the actors stumbled on some lines which distracted from the story. I’m sure that will be rectified.
Director Roland Branford Gomez put together a straightforward production with few bells and whistles in which the dialogue took center stage.
As an audience member observing this take on General Jackson, I was most intrigued by Jackson’s character when he addressed the audience directly. I would love to see more of that incorporated into the play.
Let me reiterate: If you are a Civil War buff and a theater lover, this is the show for you.
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.
Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Capital Fringe Page.
Read the preview of ‘Confederates.’
RATING: BEST OF the 2016 CAPITAL FRINGE!