The Road to Appomattox

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

The Colony Theatre is presenting the local premiere of Catherine Bush’s The Road to Appomattox, which was commissioned by the Barter Theatre in commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War. Bush’s play contrasts a modern-day story of a couple visiting historical markers surrounding Lee’s movements prior to his surrender and the actual events in the Confederate camp. An unhappy series of mistakes, coincidences, and accidents will eventually force Lee’s hand and signal the dissolution of the Confederacy. Similarly, the modern couple is facing problems which could derail their marriage.

Bush’s dramatization of the historical facts is gripping and has the ring of truth. Lee’s desperation grows quite believably as he sees each of his plans to save his men shattered by circumstance or the superior strength of the Northern Army. The modern story, however, feels much more programmatic. The married couple’s issue feels forced, the number of convenient coincidences strain credulity, and the important plot point which motivates the first act curtain pretty much disappears after intermission.

The Colony mounts a typically handsome production of the show which features evocative sets and lighting by David Potts and Jared A. Sayeg, respectively. Director Brian Shnipper keeps the competing narrative strands clear and the pace brisk, though he does allow the emotional moments to breathe.

Bjorn Johnson’s Robert E. Lee supplies a solid foundation for the historical section. He is properly commanding, but the actor’s artistry allows us to experience Lee’s doubts, his frustration, his despair, and his rash temper under pressure—in short, his humanity. He is ably partnered by Shaun Anthony’s sympathetic turn as Colonel Walter Taylor, Lee’s aide de camp and occasional conscience. As the modern couple, Jenny and Steve Weeks, Bridget Flanery and Brian Ibsen do their best to bring depth to their characters. Tyler Pierce comes close to stealing the show as the charismatic, motorcycle-riding Civil War history expert in the modern story, and Captain Russell, a small but vital character in the Confederate camp scenes.

Colony Theatre     February 14 – March 15, 2015