The Column Online



By Doris Baizley

ONSTAGE in Bedford

Director- Mike Hathaway
Stage Manager- Adam Livingston
Set Design- Mike Hathaway
Lighting- Adam Livingston
Sound- Kevin Brazil
Costumes- Hope Cox
Scenic Artist- Angela Posey Destro
Artistic Director- Michael B. Winters

LucyGale Scruggs-Tammy Partanen
Clara May Abbott- Angela Posey Destro
Meg Barton- Connie George
Cecilia Delaunay Pettison- Sherri Small
Ranger Wilson- La’netia D. Taylor

Reviewed Performance: 8/26/2017

Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

A play could scarcely be more relevant to events in our everyday news than one about a reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh which occurred in Tennessee in 1862. And, not anticipating the current turn of events in the US, Onstage in Bedford chose Doris Baizley’s play, SHILOH RULES, a year ago for their 2017 season. The play concerns the anticipated reenactment of one of the bloodiest Civil War battles and focuses on five women who are present to portray “support personnel”. Clara Abbott is a Union nurse who has a newcomer, Meg Barton, alongside to teach the rules of the reenactment, while Cecilia Delaunay Pettison, a Confederate widow, wrangles LucyGale Scruggs, an over-anxious young woman who wants to jump into the fighting rather than sit on the sidelines. Add into the mix The Widow Beck, a souvenir and snacks vendor who sneaks her wares into the National Park, site of the reenactment, and acts as the interpreter of the events that unfold. All are there to win the title of “Best Reenactor.” And to add interest there is Ranger Wilson, the Park Ranger, who wants no part of this chaos but becomes the pivot point of the play as she happens to also be a black woman.

Reenactments actually began before the Civil War was even over as a way to remember fallen comrades and convey to others what was happening in the war. Think our modern day TV news coverage. This practice has grown in popularity in recent years, with the reenactment of the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1998 drawing between 15,000 to 20,000 participants and an audience of around 50,000. SHILOH RULES takes place in the Shiloh National Military Park and a marker on the stage reminds the audience of the unbelievable toll of wounded and dead: 10,000 Confederate and 13,000 Union, the highest in US history at the time of the battle.

Hathaway’s set is suggestive of the park and its multi-levels provide the actors with movement possibilities considering the relatively small size of the stage. When darkened, it becomes haunting and suggestive of the sadness of the site of the battle. The night sounds of crickets and other creatures further added to the eeriness of the scene. Are those fireflies we see as night falls at the final curtain?

Sherri Small, as the over-involved Cecilia Pattison, evokes the “other worldliness” of her character. Physically she is strong and controlled and very suggestive of a ghost-like woman who seems to really exist in 1862. Small’s voice is not always forcible enough to be heard, however, perhaps in her attempt to portray an ethereal quality of her character, but it tends to rather make Cecilia fade in juxtaposition to the other, more vigorous portrayals onstage.

This play is both funny at times and at others tender, and occasionally biting in its commentary. The characters are all quite different in their backgrounds as well as their reasons for wanting to be involved in the reenactment. The task for the director is to meld the differing backstories into a whole that is even and meaningful in its telling. This is where the cast struggled.

Tammy Partanen as LucyGale Scruggs and Connie George as Meg Barton, the reenactment “newbies” just about take over the stage when they are present. Both vocally and physically, they are solid, though Partenen would probably be more believable if her characterization were not so over the top as being one dimensional. George is perhaps the most believable of the women, and gives the audience a view into the young nursing student, who comes to the reenactment quite zealous in her devotion, but who is aghast at the reality when the “fighting” begins. Partanen, though quite vocally and physically adept onstage, is often just too much as the young office worker who longs for excitement. She has good comic timing, as best evidenced in her corset viewing scene, but there is much more to be discovered in her character than mugging and physical facility.

Barri Alguire as the Widow Beckwith, has an easy charm on stage as she weaves her way in and out of the story. She has one foot in the reenactment and one solidly in the real world as she sells (or gives) away her wares. She is sometimes difficult to hear but her characterization is spot on and she seems always to be in the moment of what is transpiring to move the story along.

Angela Posey Destro portrays Clara May Abbott, a reenactor who becomes overly involved in her role as a nurse to the men on the field. Clara May not only wants to best Cecilia as “Best Reenactor” but loses herself in the horror of what is being portrayed to the point she shoots LucyGale, fortunately only injuring her hand, but shocking Clara May to realize how deeply she has become affected by her role. Destro is properly tedious in her insistence on authenticity as she instructs Meg, her apprentice, in preparing for the action to begin. She is also appropriately passionate as she relates her devotion to the Union cause. She creates her character both physically and vocally and we are properly stunned when she loses herself in the action. Destro appears more comfortable in the role of dedicated nurse than as terribly conflicted reenactor. She never quite reaches the depth of believable sorrow and passion called for in the role, though overall her performance is credible.

The role of Ranger Wilson, the park ranger who unfortunately draws duty in the area of the park where the five female reenactors gather, is played by La’Netia D. Taylor. Taylor draws on her experience as a media professional to give the audience the commentator and the voice of reason in the play, even though her character is eventually drawn into the action a bit. In a reenactment of a Civil War battle, the issues which drove the war raise their heads as the play proceeds. Taylor as Ranger Wilson, is in the middle between Clara, who is a zealot to the cause of the preservation of the Union, and Cecilia, who laments the loss of a way of life for the South. Taylor is strong physically and convincing as the harried Ranger, though her delivery is at times unnecessarily slow and too. Her eyes often reveal her character’s frustration and her caustic delivery is priceless at times.

I want to also mention the two young American Sign Language translators who seemed to really get into the action of the play and with gestures and facial expressions, along with their signing, were fun to watch!

Hathaway has pulled together a strong, though at times uneven, cast of six women. The play is certainly timely, however unintentional by the company. The music adds to the setting beautifully and the lighting as well. As an audience we are certainly presented with many questions concerning the War which terribly divided our country. One of which is, are reenactments worthy endeavors or simply the reinvention of old national wounds? Hathaway’s staging and lighting of the final scene focuses on the destitute Old South and the rise from the ashes of slavery of people of color in our country. It’s quite stunning.

Onstage in Bedford
Bedford Boys Ranch, 2819 Forest Ridge Drive, Bedford, TX 76021
Plays through September 10th

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.--$14.99/$19.99
Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.--$14.99/$19.99
Tickets: Call 817-354-6444