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A CurtainUp Review
Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme
By Elyse Sommer
Since its arrival in this country, the play has taken on yet another mantle of grim immediacy and in a very short time. When Observe the Sons of Ulster . . . played briefly at the Williamstown Theatre's Nikos Stage during the summer of 2001 the vacationing theater goers had no inkling that the horror of war would strike their homeland. The battle that has long epitomized the wasteful devastation of war was moving but not immediately relevant.
Even when Nicholas Martin mounted the play in Boston, audiences were still blissfully unaware that by the time it would reach Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater, its relevance would suddenly be thunderous and its title might be Observe the Sons and Daughters of America Marching Towards Iraq. Even the Orange sashes the eight Ulster men don as towards the end of the play as badges of courage are a grim reminder of the color used to alert us of the high probability of another homeland attack.
Mr. McGuinness has not tried to compete with the movies' ability to bring us as close to the experience of being in a war as possible. His is a lyrical, behind the battle scenes approach that focuses on the men before and between battles, with words rather than flying bullets fueling the action. The viewer's experience is somewhat like a visit to a war-themed art exhibit, with the figures in the paintings stepping out of their framed canvases long enough for us to peek at the men they might have been had they not been doomed to be frozen in their youthful poses.
Perhaps it's because the grim parallels between the eight young Ulstermen from a long-ago war are too painful to contemplate that tickets haven't been hard to get as hen's teeth as is usual with Lincoln Center productions, especially in the smaller venue. The less than full house is as likely due to the fact that despite the excellent performances and the visual impact of the production, the problems spurring these men to enlist remain more than a little ambiguous to the end, especially the murky Parisian interlude feeding Pyper's death wish. While the scene during which the soldiers pair off, each partner bolstering the other's weaknesses and fears is quite powerful, it's also a little too symmetrical, pre-planned and familiar -- which, except for its unanticipated super-timeliness, applies to this play generally.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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