Boots on the Ground Theater’s mission statement is unlike that of any other local theater: to act and reenact Long Island’s rich history, with an accent on the Victorian period.
It has fulfilled its task in the past with a wonderful production of The Miracle Worker earlier this year, and now brings Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage to the Southampton Cultural Center, a tale of a young man’s first few days as a private in the Civil War.
Unlike most war stories of the time, and beyond, Crane’s novel, which has never been out of print since its publication, focused less on the action on the field and more on the inner emotional landscape. The play’s lead character, Henry Fielding, is portrayed with great eloquence by Pierson High School freshman Thomas Schiavoni. In dreams and hallucinations, Henry engages in his inner dialogue with his mother, played with aplomb by producer Bonnie Grice, as he struggles to walk the line — or tightrope — between his duty and his fears.
The setting for The Red Badge of Courage, adapted for the stage by Catherine Bush for the Barter Players of Virginia, is roughly based on the Battle of Chancellorville, in May 1863, when the Civil War still had another two years before Appomattox and General Lee’s surrender.
Even though the action is set in Virginia, the characters are purported to be based on stories told to Crane by veterans of the 124th regiment out of Orange County, NY. Crane created the fictional 304th regiment out of New York to tell this story.
Ethan Suhr is Billy, the flagbearer, and between him and Schiavoni the audience is reminded that these battles were fought by children. Richard Adler plays Jim, the war-weary veteran soldier that the boys look up to, and Christopher Levi — a real-life veteran and double amputee — plays the colonel and a tattered soldier with integrity and honesty. Also in the cast are Deyo Trowbridge, Robert Nelson, and Mitch Seldin, who all do a fine job bringing authenticity to Crane’s story.
Josephine Teresi-Wallace ably directs the show; but here’s the thing. It’s short. Very short. It has the feel of a one-act. There’s nothing wrong with that; it was just surprising. Perhaps in a new version, the evening can be filled out with a half-hour of letters written to and from the front, perhaps with other local actors. Just a thought.
And at times, it seemed that the focus was more on getting the re-enactment to feel authentic than on the authentic feelings the soldiers, especially Henry, were experiencing. However, Schiavoni is really a talent to keep an eye on in local community theater.
The performance is accompanied by an exhibit in the lobby/gallery of Civil War photographs and memorabilia, including a history of Alonzo Foster of Hampton Bays, who served with the 6th New York Calvary Regiment.
All in all, a badge of courage goes to Boots on the Ground for continuing its mission to bring educational and historical works to the stage with authenticity and local talent. It is also hosting a special performance for veterans on November 4.
To find out more about showtimes and tickets, visit www.scc-arts.org.