Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
All Is Calm in the Midst of Brutal War
Also see Stephanie's reviews of The Game's Afoot, The Nutcracker, Cinderella: The E! True Hollywood Story and Nutcracker on the Rocks and Rob's reviews of Elf the Musical, Jr., The Wind in the Willows and A Christmas Carol and
A collaboration between Mother Road and The Vortex, All Is Calm is a retelling of the night during World War I when German and Allied soldiers declared peace and celebrated Christmas in the killing fields of the Western Front. They swapped stories, photos, liquor, songsand helped each other bury their dead.
Cued by the tenor voice of Tim MacAlpine, the chorus joins in. We see them faintly behind a scrim, in the halls of memory. Their melded voices thrill us to the core.
Envisioned by its creator as a radio play, in this production the 13 cast members speak directly to us in the words of the British, French, and German soldiers who were there, along with a few statements from their leaders, including Winston Churchill. The men sing familiar carols, soldiers' ditties, drinking songs and more. Its author Peter Rothstein said: "The text is taken from a wide range of sources including letters, journals, official war documents, poetry, grave stone inscriptionseven an old radio broadcast."
Director Thudium cleverly gives us more action than a radio play provides. The actors speak up in different authentic accents and attitudes (dialect coach Steve Corona has done an amazing job). They speak as different characters, some of whom we hear from more than once. That's the charm of this play: the soldiers' voices are clearly heard.
And they are spellbinding, so much so that we forgot to applaud until the very end. Apologies to all, especially MacAlpine and Jonathan Gallegos, whose stirring portrayal of a French opera singer entertaining the troops that night is miraculous. We love your voices. We just didn't want to break the spell.
Set design by Vic Browder and lighting by Thomas Studer locate the play in mood and place. Low lights onstage are offset by a backlit parachute stretched to provide a screen for present-day photos of Belgium by director Julia Thudium and others, and historic photos from The Imperial War Museum and the National Library of Scotland. Costume design by Carolyn Hoffmann-Schneider has the men in cleverly nondescript clothing that says "soldier" but doesn't specify which side.
The Sunday matinee I attended was punctuated by Albuquerque veteran Don Jackson playing "Last Post" (the British version of "Taps," according to Thudium) on his trumpet. The song is played every night at the Menin Gate in Belgium to commemorate the World War I Battle of Ypres, where the Christmas truces began. This attention to detail characterizes All Is Calm.
The 75-minute performance goes by like a song. I want to hear it again next year.
Through December 27, 2015, Friday-Saturday 7:30 pm; Sun. 2 pm Thursday performances, Dec. 10 & 17 at 7:30 pm Christmas Day at 6 pm Talkback: after Dec. 13 performance. Tickets: $15-22, The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd. NE, (505) 247-8600, vortexabq.org