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Steppenwolf’s season of “Dispatches from the Homefront” has traveled from Greek legend to contemporary Iraq. Now, it splits the difference and hones in on a time in America when the battlefield and home front collided. Countless historians have told the tale of the War between the States; from analysis of military strategy to reporting of death tolls, our collective fascination with American-American bloodshed has never been satiated. But what these numerical overviews devalue is the story of the mundane individual: the nobody father weeping over his dead son, the forgotten lover sending notes to her husband-to-be, and, of course, the horny detractors who took self-serving advantage of a young nation being pre-occupied with survival.
The latter characters, Arly (the impeccable Ian Barford) and Will (the shapeshifting Stephen Louis Grush) are the comedic relief and driving force in Frank Galati’s adaptation of D.H.Lawrence’s “The March.” A piece of historical fiction which weaves invented characters into the preserved war record, “The March” follows a handful of personal narratives forged in a time when life and death were separated by thin lines, like stripes on a flag. Arly and Will, the dynamic duo whose bravado is only surpassed by their libido, fight on both sides of the conflict and push us forward through the plot of the war. Neither man actually existed, but by blurring fact and fiction, Lawrence offers up a sort of “People’s History of America.” Fictional nobodies coexist with historical behemoths, most notably the general Ulysses S. Grant, boomingly embodied by Harry Groener.
Grant’s writings are staged as soliloquies directed to the brooding mass of the audience. The tensions he faces of ordering a group of men to their death is similar to the task Frank Galati has undertaken, as he “orders” a large cast to translate an enormous war into a finite stage. The soldiers rise to their general’s challenge, and “The March” is able to represent the Civil War not only in content, but form: like the war that spanned across five Aprils, the two-act epic spans almost three hours; like the bloodshed that affected millions of Americans, the play enlists an ensemble of over thirty. The piece is a strong representation of the war, but that doesn’t save it from – like war – occasionally being boring. While the mundane can be imbued with profound significance, it can still come off as siply mundane. On the whole, “The March” will not keep you on the edge of your seat; it’s a story that has been well-worn, but that doesn’t keep it from being exceptionally well-told.
“The March” is stomping at the Steppenwolf through June 10, 2012. Tickets at http://www.steppenwolf.org.