In this 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, Washington, D.C., is lucky to have storyteller “Country Joe” Rosier create living histories of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant especially for the Capital Fringe Festival. This review covers his one-man show about Lee, Reflections of General Robert E. Lee. Sunday’s review will discuss his show about Grant.
The setting is a chapel in Lexington, Virginia, at Washington College, a military academy where Lee has been president for the five years following the war. He is addressing recent graduates, faculty, and guests about his early life and military career. At the time of the address, Lee is a world-weary 63. He reflects with resignation on hopes, decisions, and failures. He sighs often with regret. He is ponderous, his speech is halting and he sometimes looks haunted when he describes certain battles, like the Battle of the Wilderness where he nearly lost his life by getting ahead of the line. Today we would say that he has PTSD.
Rosier, a trial attorney, spent one year writing and researching the two shows. combining the skills of historian, playwright, and actor. Like a historian, he uses source documents to give us a chronological and geographical account of Lee’s movements in the war and an idea of what was going on in the larger scope of American politics and in his personal and family life. Like a playwright, he includes a funeral (George Washington’s), a death (his father’s), and a marriages (his own). Like an actor, he rubs his forehead in consternation, bows his chin in thought over steepled fingers and cranes his head back with his eyes squeezed shut in pain. He wears a top hat, black waistcoat and pants and a vest with a pocket watch. His accent is slightly southern, with a softened final R, as in ‘surrendah’ instead of ‘surrender.’
Rosier is a historian, a playwright, an actor, but most of all, an explicator. There are many little stories in this show about which I had no idea, for example, he and Grant were acquainted during the siege of Mexico City in the Mexican War. Lee was rankled when the U.S. government built a cemetery for Union soldiers next to his home, Custis Mansion, in Arlington. His dad was General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III, (OK, maybe I should have known that). Anyway, I wish they taught history like this when I was in school. Thanks, Country Joe!
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Reflections of General Robert E. Lee and An Evening with General Ulysses S. Grant plays through July 26, 2013 at Caos on F – 923 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information an to purchase tickets, visit the show’s Capital Fringe page..
2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Sesquicentennial – The Civil War Remembered’ by “Country Joe” Rosier.