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A CurtainUp Review
Beyond Glory

It doesn't sound reasonable. . .but you've got to understand, I'm the leader here. Got to show resolve. — James Stockdale
Stephen Lang in Beyond Glory
Stephen Lang in Beyond Glory
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The recent theater season brought several plays about the pain of war, and the courage required simply to walk onto a battle field every day. The best of these, R.C. Sherriff's Journey's End, which spent far too little time on Broadway, could convince even the most objective viewer that war is hell.

Now the Roundabout Theatre Company has entered the new season with a one-man show called Beyond Glory, written and performed by Stephen Lang. Adapted from Larry Smith's book of the same title, it offers brief portraits of eight Medal-of-Honor recipients, including Daniel K. Inouye, the Democratic Senator from Hawaii who served during World War II in the 442nd (Nisei) Regimental Combat Team, and James Stockdale,a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for seven-and-a-half years Ross Perot's running mate during the 1992 presidential election.

Alone on a sleek, circular stage, Lang transforms into the various men, reaching into a trunk for a change of shirt and then altering his physical stance, his gestures, his voice—his entire body really. The challenge of a one-person show such as this is to make the transition from one character to another smoothly, and under Robert Falls' restrained direction, Lang begins each shift slightly in advance of a new character's words.

The strapping, muscled Lang is thoroughly credible as a soldier, but he is at his best as the toughest of the eight: 97-year-old John William Finn, who was about to make love to his wife on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when the Japanese had the temerity to bomb Pearl Harbor. Finn was so angry about the interruption (among other things) that he rushed to an airplane hangar, grabbed a .30 caliber machine gun and, despite being wounded, fired on the Japanese bombers for two-and-a-half hours.

For centuries war has largely tended to generate two kinds of literature and performance: the kind that depicts war's awfulness, and the kind that glorifies battle and the heroes that fight. Sherriff's Journey's End, in portraying the unselfconscious heroism of men who go into battle despite tremendous fear, exposed war's horrific conditions. Beyond Glory, despite a title that suggests there is another side to receiving military honors, aims to demonstrate and praise men's courage. While one may shudder at Stockdale's account of his treatment as a POW, the real point of this cameo is how Stockdale avoided torture—and avoided submitting to his captors—by hurting himself so badly in advance of an "interrogation" that the North Vietnamese could not display him as a true conquest. Stockdale's heroism,, rather than the war that made it necessary, is the point here, and it should not surprise that Lang has successfully toured his play to military bases around the world.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare Journey's End and Beyond Glory. The first is a well-plotted drama filled with a range of dimensional characters. The second is really slivers of oral history shaped into actable, occasionally entertaining stories. While Journey's End explores what it means to risk one's life, while Beyond Glory is all about describing the risk, even celebrating it, and coming out alive. Oh, there are nods to the reality that war has another side: the black soldier Vernon Baker has to wait more than 50 years to receive the Medal of Honor he rightfully earned during World War II, and Senator Inouye refers to the appalling U.S. internment of Japanese Americans during that war. But Inouye's story, the last in the play, ends with his father's platitudes: "We all love this country. Whatever you do, do not dishonor your country."

There is a simple, macho appeal to Lang's play. After all, how can you resist war stories that focus on those who come through fire and brimstone by virtue of sheer guts? But there is no real investigation into what exists beyond the glory.

By Stephen Lang, adapted from the book Beyond Glory by Larry Smith
Directed by Robert Falls
Cast: Stephen Lang; also John Bedford Lloyd, Matt Sincell, Anne Twomey (Voices of the Military
Set: Tony Cisek
Costumes: David C. Woolard
Lighting: Dan Covey
Sound: Cecil Averett
Original music: Robert Kessler and Ethan Neuburg
Projections: John Boesche
Running time: 80 minutes
Roundabout Theatre Company at Laura Pels Theatre/ Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for the Arts 111. W. 46th Street 212-719-1300 or
Tues. — Sat. at 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Sat., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
From 5/25/07 to 8/19/07; opening 6/21/07
Tickets: $56.25-$66.25 Reviewed by Alexis Greene on June 14
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