All Is Calm is Elegant Theatre

We learn the most important lessons from the most devastating moments. Reflecting on a moment in World War I’s history is a poignant reminder of humanity and the power of simple kindness.

MusicalFare Theatre’s reprised production of All Is Calm at Shea’s 710 Theatre is just as stunning as its 2021 staging. The same production team created an aurally and visually immersive experience in this larger house, with the sounds of war gently (and sometimes not so gently) rumbling under the words and music of this remarkable cast.

To recap the story, In the first few months of the war (“we thought it would be over by Christmas,” is an oft-repeated sentiment), British soldiers were acclimating to life in the trenches in that most frightening location of The Great War: No Man’s Land. Something happened on Christmas night, 1914: British soldiers on the Western Front heard singing and saw flickering lights coming from the German troops.  They crossed this chasm of battle and joined in with carols of their own, first competitively and then in unity. Weapons were laid down, beverages, snacks, and stories were shared, language and cultural barriers were set aside. The men declared their own unofficial Christmas truce that lasted but a few days and was ne’er repeated.  Playwright Peter Rothstein’s script is built on a series of statements from soldiers with each quote closed out with their name and rank. The epistolary form was well-used here, we’re reading a soldier’s letter to a loved one. Associating words to people gave the story a wide open heart.

If the story sounds familiar, you’re either a student of world history or you were in the Subversive Theatre Collective Audience in 2014 to see local writer Gary Earl Ross’ take on the same story, The Guns of Christmas.

Between the spoken lines were popular songs of the day and song Christmas carols, too. Music Director Theresa Quinn’s church choral director skills are well used here. All songs were performed a cappella with beautifully layered harmonies.  And truly, the songs were as organic and authentic as they would have been in the day, just coming out of nowhere to underscore a moment of levity or punctuate a moment of reflection and remembrance. The singers’ skills were breathtaking, to literally pull their music out of the air and fill the space effortlessly and perfectly. From Ricky Needham’s opening “Will Ye Go To Flanders,” to the final reprisal of the ensemble singing “Silent Night/Sill Nacht” and the reflective Last Post, the singing was haunting and lovely. With Needham are Christopher Andreana, Kyle Bassett-Baran, Christian Brandjes, Louis Colaiacovo, Chris Cummings, Alex Anthony Garcia, Matthew Gilbert-Wachowiak, Bob Mazierski, John Panepinto, Marc Sacco, and Dave Spychalski. Together they were everyman.   

Susan Drozd stage direction was precise. There were beautiful moments when weapons were sharply, deliberately placed just so. Each actor held a firm gaze to the back of the house when delivering lines, speaking to everyone and someone else just beyond the fourth wall.  Chris Cavanagh’s dramatic lighting and battle noises meshed with designer Dyan Burlingame’s trench set. Kari Drozd managed costume design and it was fun to watch the men using simple leg wraps, hats, and coats to become other characters. This was an important detail in the story and signaled their transition from camp soldier to one in active battle.

It’s a breath-taking, beautiful production with a timeless message: peace on Earth is possible.

The well-paced, single act (no intermission and just under 90 minutes) ended with a reminder, from British poet Robert Laurence Binyon’s poem “The Fallen”: “We will remember them.”

All Is Calm is onstage until December 18: tickets and details are at https://www.sheas.org/performances/all-is-calm/.