By Jordan Wright (Photo/Michael DeBlois)
Have you ever been curious about what goes on behind the scenes at battle reenactments?
A type of living history that focuses on a singular moment in a particular battle, it requires participants live outdoors, dress in hand-stitched period clothing, carry authentic arms, foodstuffs and field medicines, and speak in the manner of the day. It has become a popular pastime.
In “Shiloh Rules,” playwright Doris Baizly provides us not only with an intriguing behind-the-scenes interpretation of the type of people that participate in these activities, but also an exciting, multilayered script.
Though there are more Civil War battlefields in Virginia than anywhere else in the country, one of the bloodiest encounters was the Battle of Shiloh in east Tennessee, which accounted for 23,000 casualties. The hallowed land is now called the Shiloh National Military Park, where the action in Baizly’s drama takes place.
Director Mary Ayala-Bush has chosen to present the play in the round, a decision that creates a super-charged energy level. Drama and comedy converge when six women meet on the battlefield.
Clara May, known as the “Angel of Antietam,” is on the Union side with young Meg (Jennifer McClean), a nursing school student. On the rebel front are Cecelia Delaunay Pettison (Karen V. Lawrence), the embodiment of the iron-fist-in-the-velvet-glove Southern woman, and Lucygale Scruggs (Shaina Higgins), a gung-ho first-timer with a taste for blood in her youthful heart. Each describes a wartime profile of their character.
The guidelines for the re-enactors are created and overseen by the feisty Widow Beckwith (Adriana Hardy), whose penchant for breaking the very rules that she invents is outdone only by her skewed sense of what’s authentic. But outranking Beckwith is Park Ranger Wilson (Nyla Rose DeGroat), a martinet whose adherence to park rules threatens to upset the ladies’ adventures.
And Wilson, puzzled by the women’s zeal to open up the old racist wounds of war, raises the question, “Why keep fighting it?”
When the battle begins early before the bugler’s signal, all hell breaks loose. The rebels won’t “fall down,” real weapons are drawn and the action becomes all too real.
Ayala-Bush, who also is the set designer, evokes the encampment with simple canvas tents on either side: one for the ladies of the North and the other for the South. Cheers to the entire cast, who are in perfect sync in this outstanding production. And special recognition goes to sound designer Sean Doyle, who does a bang-up job recreating the fusillade of battle.
“Shiloh Rules” runs through Saturday at the Port City Playhouse at The Lab at Convergence, 1819 N. Quaker Lane. For tickets and information, visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.