Monday, April 27, 2015

ROW AFTER ROW by Jessica Dickey at The Echo

The Echo Theatre plunges back into the fray with two short plays. 

Jessica Dickey’s ROW AFTER ROW embraces the spare approach with simple wooden walls for backdrops by Amanda Nehans featuring the American flag.   A wooden table with a woman soldier drinking a tankard of ale sets the scene.  Leah (excellent Jennifer Chambers) is just back from her first Civil War Re-Enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Tiny and lithe, Leah barely looks up as Cal (Ian Merrigan) and Tom (John Sloan) rumble in from the same annual battle.  Cal plays General Longstreet and is up to his eyeballs in his authentic beard and regalia.  Tom plays a deserter who ran from the battle.  All aspects of authentically re-enacting Pickett’s Charge are adhered to right down to the thread count of the fabric of the uniforms worn by the eventually defeated South.

Playwright Dickey actually participated in one of these battles either to research the play or to just have had the experience and then deciding to write about it.  It’s a polemic that embraces the place of women not only as mostly helpmates in the time of the Civil War, but, also women’s place in the 21st Century, as well.  Initially, Cal is incensed and mean in dealing with this snip of a girl who has invaded the special table where he and Tom have always come to rehash the day’s excitement.  Leah doesn’t budge, but eventually invites the boys to join her.

The ensuing action and dialogue flash back from time to time to the actual Battle of Gettysburg.  We get the flavor not of hobbyists engaging in their deep love for this particular time in history, but the actual place and time itself.  Quick lighting changes and sound cues by Matt Richter and Corinne Carrillo respectively are all these talented actors need to return to July, 1863.  It’s the serious business of how the United States attempted to kill itself. 

The title, Row After Row, refers to the acres of dead soldiers, Yanks and Rebs who died that day, more than 30,000 soldiers, dead or wounded never left Gettysburg.  The sad story is sadder still for the South because the Confederate States eventually lost the war.  Dickey points out that the reason that the South may still be fighting this terrible war is because they cannot admit defeat.  She says through the dialogue, “If you can’t say you lost, you can’t recover.”  This sad statement defines not only the unhappy truth of the Civil War, but it also defines the eventual beginning of what might be a happy ending for Leah and Cal.  After his unsuccessful attempts to humiliate Leah, Cal realizes that he has been simply wrong. He admits it. After a bad break up that still haunts him, meeting this slip of a woman might be a way for them both to recover from their previous disappointments in the past. 

It is hilarious and touching. Director Tara Karsian, moves the characters around beautifully.  We gain sympathy for Tom, half Cal’s size, as we hear Tom tell the truth to Cal about how they need to be better friends and why.

Row After Row plays concurrently with A Small Fire. That review will come soon.  This play should be seen and enjoyed by a full and appreciative audience.  Great writing, fine acting. It’s a short and fulfilling evening of theatre.

By Jessica Dickey
The Echo Theatre
The Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA  90039
Through May 9, 2015
Tickets and information:
310 307 3753

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