To say that the South lost the Civil War is a horrific understatement of what the Southern soldiers lost. While some lost arms, legs and body parts, others lost courage, faith, honor and their lives. Playwright Steve Warren dramatically points this out in his play “Rebel Yells,” directed with equal amounts of passion and empathy by Ed Bassett for the Phoenix Stage Company in Oakville. The director also designed the costumes, lights and sound, as well as an appropriately sparse hospital set with six beds and small tables carefully accented with Karen Willey’s props.
Of course in any war, soldiers suffer similar losses, but the Southern soldiers in the hospital at the end of the Civil War lost all of the above and especially their honor. The six soldiers in this play have secrets as deep and painful as their wounds. Throughout the duration of the two act play, those secrets are revealed. They are heart wrenching.
An unconscious Sgt. Gaines who was shot in the head, occasionally sits up, shouts a few orders then falls back into a coma like sleep. Michael Cassidy plays Sgt. Gaines with split second precision. He know just when to pop up and grab the audience’s attention. Daniel R. Willey takes on the bully-type role of soldier George Abernathy and does so with gusto. Tim Phillips performs with star status in his poignant portrayal of the minister Malachi. Joshua J. Gogol has a most challenging role as Brodie, a soldier who literally lost his voice. Nonetheless, his performance speaks volumes.
Chris Evans portrays Chandler, a soldier who never learned to write. Evans’ performance makes this character the most likely to win the audience’s empathy, especially when he dictates a letter to his mother. Rob Richnavsky also delivers a strong performance as Templeton, a soldier who wears his uniform even though he has a lost and arm. The rest of the soldiers are in everyday garb of the era. Leland M. Schick as Paddy Brannigan, often adds comic relief to an overwhelmingly depressing story.
Kristen Jacobsen plays the one female character in this production. She plays Nurse Alexander and is commanding enough to keep the soldiers in line. Overall, the actors performed extremely well and came together as a tightly knit ensemble. The first act had problems because the actors spoke softly and often could not be heard. They raised the volume in the second act, but occasionally spoke too softly again.
While Civil War buffs should hurry to see this fine production; as stated before, it is depressing to a fault. An audience member leaving the theater joked with his peers,“ I feel like I should go home and shoot myself.”
It plays through Sept. 23. Box office: 860-417-2505. Please note that Oakville is before Waterbury and right off Route 8.