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Gala Theatre at Tivoli Square
Thursday, July 25, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27, 1:45 p.m. Sunday, July 28, 12:00 noon
They say: “Rooted in music, letters, movement and poems from then and now, this theatrical concert explores the American Civil War soldier’s tale, the war’s impact on the nation and the internal struggles that make love a battlefield everyday.”
Camila’s Take: The program for My Civil War might be mistaken for a college class syllabus: think HIS186 Eyewitness Accounts of The American Civil War. Excerpts from letters, journal entries, nonfiction texts, and poetry weave in between songs (mostly traditional or period music) and dances. Instead of trying to tie these texts into a single narrative, creator Michael Vitaly Sazonov takes a more fragmentary approach, presenting the medley of materials in a series of loosely-themed scenes. The result is a documentary-flavored revue: a variety show centered on a true stories of death and suffering.
The primary sources themselves are evocative and exquisitely researched, combining the obvious (Walt Whitman) and the obscure (letters from unknown infantrymen). Unfortunately, the letters and stories don’t gain much from being inserted into a song-and-dance show. Presented without any context, each snippet of source material loses some of its specific meaning, and the performances aren’t powerful enough to compensate. Pitchy singing hampers the musical numbers and the dancing rarely moves beyond repetitive mimicry. At the second performance, technical issues—-a distractingly buzzing speaker and some seemingly-glitchy projections—-further highlighted the show’s shortcomings.
There are some fantastic exceptions: Aaron Myers‘ rich, resounding voice elevates every scene he’s in, and a formal dance between Sazonov and Megan Harrold is a graceful glimpse of the past. Restrained but emotional performances by ASL interpreters are an inspired component of the show (it’s a pity the interpreters won’t be present at all performances). At times, the combination of singing, signing, dancing, and recitation is truly powerful.
But overall, the piece doesn’t achieve its lofty storytelling aims. Sazonov clearly takes his source materials seriously — they’re scrupulously cited on that academic-looking program, and stacks of books onstage look almost like shrines. But while he labors to do right by those stories, they might shine more clearly in those hardcover originals than they do in this new presentation, innovative and interdisciplinary though it is.
See it if: You’re a Civil War junkie without time to read 19th-century journals.
Skip it if: You’re a cabaret connoisseur with a fine-tuned critical ear.