Despite My Civil War’s description as a “multidisciplinary exploration of the American Civil War,” this production feels more like a cursory stumbling through a series of tonally incoherent presentations. Under the direction and writing of Michael Vitaly Sazonov, it moves through vignettes made up of dance, period folk and military songs, poetry written in regards to the war, and letters written by actual Civil War Soldiers. However, the strict adherence to complete authenticity disallowed any form of development among characters or visceral interactions to make the emotional landscapes of this time period clear. Beyond that, the vignettes were nowhere near dynamic; the energy did not build into any sort of climax or dramatic fulfillment, leaving a stale taste and a desire for any sign of directorial intent as to what he was trying to say. This production never delves beyond surface level and gives no view or emotional grounding to this complex and heart rending conflict.
The band was comprised of talented instrumentalists; however, when put together the sound was disharmonious and seemed to be constantly on the edge of falling apart. Also serving as the lead player, Sazonov executed all disciplines of his performance adequately. His singing seemed authentic to the period, his acting was occasionally hammy but every so often felt endearing, and his dance was technically proficient when not made silly by the over the top choreography. One dance sequence, set to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, aimed to provide a grim juxtaposition between the glorification of war and the harsh, bloody realities that lie behind it. This all fell through as the sequence had more hectic prancing than expressive hopelessness. Another scene relied on an overly repetitive and all too literal “dance with death,” in which the same move is repeated over and over again, making this attempt and profundity wholly blunt.
One highlight of the night was Aaron L. Meyers II, whose African Spirituals were sung with more bravado than the rest of the show combined, and gave the most impactful performance as a soldier delivering the worst news to a wife. The constantly present Genna Davidson seemed to have difficulty singing even the simplest songs. Megan Harrold was a fine dancer and actress and fulfilled her role without any problems. Stefan Alexander had the most impactful stage presence, shining both as a raw southerner or a soldier delicately crafting a love letter home.
The costume designs by Sarah Gingold were simplistic yet expressive and totally effective.The sparse adornments of blood red suspenders or the skeletons of hoop skirts made the period clear without a reliance on the literal. The lights were also a high point in design, as poignant blackouts and subtle surges in color combined to make an engaging technical feat.
My Civil War seems like a parade of clichés and common knowledge, leaving a hunger for any sort of power behind this piece.