Culture Magazine

Review: The March (Steppenwolf Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Harry Groener as General William Tecumseh Sherman in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of The March, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, adapted and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati. The March runs April 5 – June 10, 2012 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St).   
  
The March 

Adapted and Directed by Frank Galati
from book by E.L. Doctorow
at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
thru June 10  |  tickets: $55-$62   |  more info
  
Check for half-price tickets 
  
  
   Read entire review
  


     

     

Galati’s ‘March’ has potential to be an epic, but not quite there yet

     

(front) General William Tecumseh Sherman (Harry Groener) and (right) Major Morrison (Cliff Chamberlain) watch the battle from afar with several other Union soldiers in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of The March, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, adapted and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati. The March runs April 5 – June 10, 2012 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St).

  

Steppenwolf Theatre presents

  

The March

Review by Katy Walsh 

Spring in Chicago 2012 will be remembered as epic.  Three of the major theatre companies are mounting large ensemble productions.  Court premiered Angels in America -Part 1 & 2.  Goodman is in final rehearsals for The Iceman Cometh.  And over

(left to right) Coalhouse Walker (ensemble member James Vincent Meredith) and Wilma (ensemble member Alana Arenas) discuss the difficulties of being newly freed and plan a future for themselves in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of The March, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, adapted and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati. The March runs April 5 – June 10, 2012 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St).
on Halsted… 

Steppenwolf Theatre presents the world premiere of The March.  It’s the Civil War in 1864.  General William Tecumseh Sherman has invaded Georgia.  Southerners react to the destructive march across the state. Confederate soldiers flip allegiance.  Slaves use the chaos to escape.  Occupied plantations house union soldiers.  Belles become nurses to heal the bloody mess.  People are dying.  People are deserting.  People are demolishing their own civilization. Still, the march goes on.  The March chronicles the final days of the Civil War.  It’s part history, part saga and all spectacle. 

Playwright Frank Galati has adapted his second E.L. Doctorow novel.  His first efforts in 1998 resulted in the blockbuster, musical sensation Ragtime.  In The March, Galati serves as adapter and director.  Galati creates and directs a play with a 26-member cast playing multiple fictional and historical characters.  It’s an ambitious undertaking.  In Act 1, the audio-visual alone is war-time pandemonium.  James F. Ingalls (lighting design) and Josh Schmidt (sound design) battle it out on stage.  Ingalls and Schmidt create a searing combat zone. Galati adds in the casualties of this war.  The huge cast adds to the mayhem but takes away from the personal stories.  Galati keeps the action fluid.  He heroically trudges through the detailed history lesson.  Galati may stay true to Doctorow, but the audience gets lost in the translation.  It’s like watching a Civil War reenactment from on top of a hill:  you can make out what’s generally happening but you can’t tell who’s who in the whirlwind of the skirmish. 

In Act 2, the play settles into the final days of the march.  Galati takes the opportunity to introduce backstories of his characters.  But by then, fatigue has set-in over comprehending this war.  Still, it’s important to recognize the 26 men and women who served at the pleasure of Galati.  Despite so much talent on stage and so much material to plow through, there are some character stories that I would enjoy seeing more actualized.  The grand dame herself, Martha Lavey (Letitia Pettibone) majestically kicks off the show – then disappears.  Alana Arenas (Wilma) and James Vincent Meredith (Coalhouse Walker) are a love story that primarily remains untold.  More of that, please! 

(left to right) Arly Wilcox (ensemble member Ian Barford) begrudgingly assists Calvin Harper (Phillip James Brannon) in taking a photograph in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of The March, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, adapted and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati. The March runs April 5 – June 10, 2012 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St).
(left to right) Mattie Jameson (ensemble member Mariann Mayberry) laments the effect of war on her family to Emily Thompson (Carrie Coon) in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of The March, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, adapted and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati. The March runs April 5 – June 10, 2012 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St).

(left) Pearl (Shannon Matesky) grieves the loss of her father, (bottom) John Jameson (ensemble member Alan Wilder) and declares her freedom, as Dr. Wrede Sartorius (Philip R. Smith) looks on in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of The March, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, adapted and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati. The March runs April 5 – June 10, 2012 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St).
(left to right) Will B. Kirkland (Stephen Louis Grush) and Arly Wilcox (ensemble member Ian Barford) come upon Union forces after being recruited into the Confederate militia in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of The March, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, adapted and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati. The March runs April 5 – June 10, 2012 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St).

Patrick Clear and members of cast - The March Steppenwolf
Martha Lavey, in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of The March, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, adapted and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

And there are also actors that stand out for their solid military service.  Harry Groener (Sherman) IS a four-star general.  Groener portrays the famous leader with a balance of humor, vulnerability and confidence.  Ian Barford (Arly) anchors the show with his scamming antics.  An entertaining Barford changes sides and plans as the good Lord tells him to.  He hilariously delivers the line ‘how long were we in there?‘ It almost feels like an improv-ed joke about the length of the show.  His sidekick is the charmingly innocent Stephen Louis Grush (Will).  The chemistry between Barford and Grush is war buddies perfection.  

The March is a long haul.  Some of my audience comrades didn’t make it to the second half. For me, I would never be a deserter at Steppenwolf.  But, I don’t really care about the specific details of war pageantry. I do enjoy learning more about the people in our shared history.  Who are they?  What are they feeling?  Focusing more on the human drama, Galati’s The March has the potential to indeed be epic.  

  

Rating: ★★½

  

  

The March continues through June 10 at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays 3pm and 7:30pm.  Tickets are $55-$62, and are available by phone (312-335-1650) or online here (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Steppenwolf.org.  (Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, which includes one intermission)

All photos by Michael Brosilow 


     

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