Local-born playwright Jessica Dickey, a native of the Gettysburg area, considers the humor and heartache of mustering the courage to fight—for a cause, for equality, to keep going, or just to be okay—in ROW AFTER ROW, an insightful comedy about three Civil War re-enactors that interweaves stories from 1863 and the present. Set in a rural historic inn where childhood friends Tom and Cal have always stopped for beers after their annual July 3rd on-site recreation of the bloody Pickett’s Charge, the regulars find their table occupied and their tradition upset by Leah, a rookie re-enactor whose presence incites a modern-day battle between the sexes and among the trio.
The regional premiere at People’s Light & Theatre Company, directed with clarity by David Bradley, features a top-notch ensemble that captures all of the personal drama and personality quirks of the characters. They reveal themselves through 75 minutes of aggressive interactions and comical barbs interspersed with episodes from the Battle of Gettysburg that parallel and illuminate their own life experiences. William Zielinski is hilariously outspoken and opinionated, but ultimately knowledgeable and likeable, as the politically incorrect Cal; his hot-headed temperament is matched by Teri Lamm’s strong-willed Leah, a modern dancer from New York trying to heal from her own battle wounds by starting a new chapter in her life in Gettysburg. Kevin Bergen as Tom brings heart-wrenching nervousness and stress to his overwhelmed character, who, despite his more conciliatory attitude and attempts at harmony, comes to recognize the need to take a stand and to become a better and truer version of himself.
Sudden shifts from the current conversation in the Gettysburg inn to scenes from the 19th-century war are signaled by dramatic shifts in lighting (by Lily Fossner), evocative sound effects and original music (by Christopher Colucci), and Dickey’s telling contrast between the coarse vernacular of our challenging present and the poetic language of the heroic but equally troubled past. The time-traveling script is enhanced by Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s beautiful set design (with a wood-framed, stone, and brick pub interior on one side and a pocket of rocks, dirt, and trees on the other, before a large-scale photographic backdrop of the Gettysburg battlefield), and Marla J. Jurglanis’s expert period-style and intentionally “farby” (“far be it from authentic” or “fake garb”) costumes (for which Cal immediately attacks Leah, criticizing her historical inaccuracies).
The funny, sensitive, and consummately human story leaves us with an uplifting moral about striving to become “more perfect” among life’s imperfections, with the growing wisdom, tolerance, and need for unity that comes with maturity and is evinced throughout history. [Steinbright Stage, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern] October 15-November 9, 2014; http://peopleslight.org.