By Karen Isaacs
If a screenwriter had invented the idea of the Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I, it would been considered too farfetched to be credible.
Yet it happened.
During the first Christmas of World War I, at a time that many on both sides had expected the war to already be concluded (it began in August), German and English troops in the trenches put down their guns, ventured into No Man’s Land and celebrated Christmas.
It was a brief respite from the cold, the snow, the rain, the cold food and the trenches with their rats and roaches.
The story has been told many times – in films, plays, novels and more. It was part of Joan Littlewood’s satiric review of WWI, Oh, What a Lovely War.
Now the Theater Latté Da of Minneapolis/St. Paul is presenting its production of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 through Dec. 30 at the Sheen Center’s Loreto Theatre on Bleecker Street in New York.
While it is not a “typical Christmas” show, it embodies the hopefulness and good cheer of the season. It reminds us what Christmas is all about – peace on earth, goodwill to men.
This production is worthwhile seeing.
It combines songs of the period with a script by Peter Rothstein that sounds as though it were drawn from letters and diaries of the soldiers on both sides.
An ensemble of ten actors portray a variety of soldiers. As they tell their stories, we see men from all walks of life and all parts of England and Germany, from the officers to the enlisted or drafted men.
It begins with the opening of the war and the patriotic fervor (the section is called “The Optimistic Departure” as men sign up to fight. From there it is “The Grim Reality” with songs from “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” to “When This Bloody War Is Over.” Then it is “Christmas” with the two sides singing across the trenches and “The Truce” featuring mainly carols in both English and German. Of course, the generals don’t appreciate the truce and so it is “The Return to Battle.” The epilogue wraps things up.
Some of the songs are familiar – “Pack Up Your Troubles,” “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” and most of the carols. Others are less known: “Will Ye Go to Flanders,” “We’re Here Because We’re Here,” and “Christmas in the Cookhouse.”
What is remarkable about this production directed by Peter Rothstein with music direction by Erick Lichte is both the simplicity and the complexity of the production. There is no set; the stage is a black box. No orchestra or piano accompanies the actors as they sing; it is a capella. The harmonies arranged by Lichte and Timothy C Takach are wonderful.
Each and every cast member makes an important contribution to the whole.
During the truce, one English soldier asks what would happen if all the soldiers on both sides refused to fight. He answers his own questions with the recognition that the war would go on.
It seems that is still true.
Go see this; it made my top ten list for the year.
All Is Calm is at the Loreto Theater in the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, 28 Bleecker Street, New York. For tickets visit Sheen Center.g.