November 11, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
Have you ever been curious about what goes on behind the scenes at battle reenactments? A type of “living history” that focuses on a singular moment in a particular battle and requires the participants to live outdoors, dress in hand-stitched period clothing, carry authentic arms, foodstuffs and field medicines, and speak in the manner of the day, it has become a popular pastime. In Shiloh Rules playwright Doris Baizly provides us not only with an intriguing behind-the-scenes interpretation of the type of people that participate in these activities, but also an exciting multi-layered script. As her character, veteran re-enactor Clara May Abbott (Jean Hudson Miller), puts it, “We play by Shiloh rules. There aren’t any.”
Factoid: Though there are more Civil War battlefields in Virginia than anywhere else in the country, the bloodiest of all the battles was the Battle of Shiloh in East Tennessee where 23,000 casualties were sustained. The hallowed land is now called the Shiloh Battlefield Park where the action takes place.
Director Mary Ayala-Bush has chosen to present the play in the round, a decision that creates a super-charged energy level. Drama and comedy converge when six women meet on the battlefield. Clara May, known as the “Angel of Antietam”, is on the Union side with young Meg (Jennifer McClean), a nursing school student. On the rebel front are Cecelia Delaunay Pettison (Karen V. Lawrence), the embodiment of the iron-fist-in-the-velvet-glove Southern woman, and Lucygale Scruggs (Shaina Higgins), a gung-ho first timer with a taste for blood in her youthful heart. Each describes a wartime profile of their character.
The rules of the re-enactors are created and overseen by the feisty Widow Beckwith (Adriana Hardy), the head of the “Authenticity Committee”, whose penchant for breaking the very rules she invents is outweighed only by her skewed sense of what is authentic. But Beckwith is outranked by Park Ranger Wilson (Nyla Rose DeGroat), a martinet whose adherence to the park’s rules threatens to upset the ladies’ adventures. Nonetheless it is Wilson, an African-American, puzzled by the women’s zeal to open up the old racist wounds of war, who raises the question, “Why keep fighting it?”
When the battle begins before dawn before the bugler’s signal, all hell breaks loose. The rebels won’t “fall down”, real weapons are drawn and the action becomes all too real.
Ayala-Bush, who is also the Set Designer evokes the encampment with simple canvas tents on either side of the set – – one for the ladies of the North the other for the South.
Kudos to the entire cast who are in perfect synch in this outstanding production. Special recognition to Sound Designer Sean Doyle who does a “bang up” job recreating the fusillade of battle.
At Port City Playhouse at The Lab at Convergence, 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302. Performances are on the following dates – Nov. 8, 19, 22, 23, 24, 27 & 28 at 8:00 p.m. Matinees on Nov. 16 & 23 at 2pm. For tickets and information visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.