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Stealing Dixie

a Historical Drama
CATEGORY :
by Phillip Depoy

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 3788

SHOWING : August 04, 2010 - September 12, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

This is the story of James Andrew's and the group that came to be known as "Andrew's Raiders." During the Civil War, this group of Union soldiers and sympathizers infiltrated the South to Marietta with one goal in mind: Steal a train and run for Union lines, tearing up track and cutting telegraph wires, destroying the main supply to the south, and ending the war without another shot fired. What could possibly go wrong?


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REVIEWS

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Before and After
by Dedalus
Thursday, August 19, 2010
3.5
In April of 1862, a group of 24 Union “raiders” stole a train, taking it north towards Chattanooga in an attempt to disrupt one of the major supply arteries of the Confederacy. Although the raid was a failure, it spawned a cottage industry of books, movies, and legends. The Southern Museum in Kennesaw chronicles the raid, displaying memorabilia and the looted engine itself (“The General”).

Now, Marietta’s Theatre in the Square has commissioned playwright Philip DePoy to dramatize the story, and the result is “Stealing Dixie,” an intriguing piece that starts strong, then derails a bit during the second act.

Constructed as a before-and-after chronicle, the play first shows us some of the conspirators as they wait and fret through the night before the raid. This first act includes flashbacks and musical interludes, all of which give welcome dimension to the Union operatives, all of which give the play a sense of period and place and character. It also delves into the motivations of the men, chronicling the divide between “military” and “civilian” mindsets, suggesting what drives men to disrupt their lives in the pursuit of a (seemingly) foolhardy scheme.

Act Two skips ahead to the trial of the ringleaders, supposedly showing us what went wrong. Here, I felt the play “jumped the track” a bit, giving us some characters who brought an unwelcome supernatural element into the proceedings, over-simplifying the basic North-South conflict, and offering a too-pat “feel good” condemnation of war in general, all of which are at emotional odds with the inevitable conclusion. It also drops a few characters from the first Act, forcing the actors to double in roles that are necessarily plot-driven and rather shallow. Worse, there pointless Act II female character with a seemingly “psychic” connection to an Act I character played by the same actress. The playwright compounds the misstep by clumsily tossing a “you look like her” line at us.

Another reason Act II fell a little short for me was that the ideas on view, the attitudes towards war and country and honor, are too similar to those espoused in Act I. I suppose this underscores the similarities between Northern and Southern mindsets, but, to me, it felt contrived, reducing the characters to playwright’s stand-ins. It seems to me that more sharply divided viewpoints would have better served the themes, added more tension and conflict, and given the finale more impact.

Still, the cast and production were effective enough to mitigate much of the displeasure caused by these quibbles. Zechariah Pierce, as Andrews, the leader of the raiders, is all earnest commitment, struggling against all odds to keep his disparate men on purpose, never wavering from his commitment to bringing about an early end to the war. Scott DePoy plays the grizzled army veteran, Ross, chafing under the leadership of a “civilian,” yet just as determined to successfully complete the mission. And Bryant Smith provides the heart of the group, a simple Ohio man whose flashback is one of the tenderest moments of the play. Rob Lawhon does fine as a fourth member of the group, but then disappears under a bad wig to play the judge of the trial. Although this latter character is thinly written, Mr. Lawhon manages to find a core of sincerity that at least makes the author’s words plausible. Rounding out the cast are Corey Bradberry, fine as the young engineer, and Kylie Brown and Mary Lynn Owen equally fine in the five female roles.

The physical production is probably this show’s greatest asset. Scenic Designer Dale Brubaker has filled the stage with a silhouetted locomotive (complete with moving parts), with the downstage playing area convincingly alternating between “flashback,” “now,” and “the plan” sequences. It is well lit by Ken Yunker (one of the best lighting designs of the year, in my humble opinion), and Thom Jenkins has created a soundscape that combines night sounds, train sounds, and musical ambience that mix nicely with the usual passing train noises that are this theatre’s unfortunate lot in life.

So this is a play I desperately wanted to like. I’ve enjoyed Mr. DePoy’s other Theatre in the Square commissions (especially “Christmas at Sweet Apple”), and this particular piece of local history has always fascinated me, spurred mainly by my love of the Buster Keaton (highly fictionalized) silent movie of the account (“The General”). And, the first act was a promising piece that dwelt more on mood and character than on politics.

Perhaps extending the “Before” sequence, filling in more background, maybe even showing us some of the “players” on the Confederate side, and ending with the start of the raid itself would have been more satisfying to me. As it is, I found the second act made this particular engine lose steam. With its shallow rendering of Southern attitudes and with its cheap appeal to the supernatural, it was, well, downright unappealing.

Still, the first act, the production itself and the performances by the three chief raiders are cause enough to recommend this slice of Marietta history.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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