Row After Row

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

In the Los Angeles premiere of Row After Row, playwright Jessica Dickey explores the specialized world of Civil War Re-enactors. Not the battle itself, but the “backstage” passions of the people who spend substantial money, time, and effort to achieve authenticity down to the thread count in their uniforms.

Cal (Ian Merrigan) and Tom (John Sloan) are lifelong friends and fellow re-enactors. They enter their favorite watering hole after the annual re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge, to find “their” table occupied by first-timer, Leah (Jennifer Chambers). Sparks fly immediately between a truculent Cal and a defiant Leah. Tom assumes the obviously familiar role of peacemaker and manages an uneasy truce at the table. Cal, still wary of the newcomer, points out that Leah is “farbing,” (wearing non-period appropriate items). As the trio relax and fall into deeper discussion, battlefield accuracy gives way to personal disappointments and revelations.

The Echo Theater Company lavishes its usual scrupulous care in direction and performances on Dickey’s one-act. (It plays in rep with Adam Bock’s A Small Fire.) And under Tara Karsian’s attentive direction, the banter around the table is lively and sharply etched. But Dickey has larger ambitions and suddenly transports us to 1863 where Tom and Cal actually live their usual re-enactment roles of Union Deserter and Confederate Colonel. Leah becomes a woman who disguises herself as a Confederate soldier in order to sneak into the Confederate camp and bless the soldiers with a kiss. The period scenes, though performed with commitment, feel slightly awkward, and their modern analogies a bit forced. If the intention was to make the piece less programmatic, it accomplishes the opposite. That said, there is a lovely lyricism in some of the period writing.

Merrigan’s Cal is initially all bluster and bad manners, but he ably reveals Cal’s wounds and, eventually, a boyish enthusiasm which just might be enough to forge a romantic détente with Leah. As Leah, Chambers bristles with an antagonistic shield that barely cloaks her feelings of defeat. But it is clear that she finds a spark of hope in her encounter with the men. Sloan, in the least showy role, brings admirable depth and a low-key power to Tom, the quiet outsider.

Row After Row is an enjoyable dramedy with sterling performances and an easily digestible 75-minute running time.

Atwater Village Theatre  April 25 – May 9, 2015 (runs in rep with A Small Fire)