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Theater review: St. Scholastica presents powerful WWI drama 'Journey's End'

World War I brought new ways for men to maim and kill each other even more effectively with deadly flamethrowers, portable machine guns and mustard gas.

Robert Cedric Sherriff was a British officer who fought in WWI and survived. His experiences led him to write the play "Journey's End," first performed in 1928, starring 21-year-old Laurence Olivier in the leading role.

The College of St. Scholastica's production presents a realistic look at one of the underground "dugouts" that housed WWI officers. Unlike the mud trenches that the other soldiers had, with little protection from the elements, the dugouts had a wooden structure with a few creature comforts, including beds and tables.

Kevin Seime's set is really one of the stars of the show. Built and furnished to give a feeling of the claustrophobia of living in such small quarters, every detail is period appropriate. Costumer Sasha Howell rented WWI-style British officer uniforms from England, giving the show even more of an authentic vibe.

The play is set over four days leading up to a massive German attack and effectively shows the odd mix of the men's unbelievable tension and seemingly endless boredom. The personalities and interaction of a group of officers, under the leadership of Captain Stanhope (Rob Larson), make up the story.

Larson is indeed an actor's case study, with all the nuance, power and charisma needed to play the role of a leader utterly tormented by what he has seen and endured at the front, and who looks for escape in a whiskey bottle.

Another of the acting standouts is Theodore Carlson Webster as Raleigh, a young officer new to the unit who had been friends with Stanhope back home, and who had held the older Stanhope up as a role model and hero.

The inexperienced Raleigh is told he will be leading a group of men into battle shortly after his arrival. Webster plays the fresh-faced youth with a mix of enthusiasm and terror and is a sharp contrast to the war-weary Stanhope.

Comic relief comes from Conor J. Reindl, as the ever-confused and eager-to-please cook, and Adam M. Anderson as Trotter, the perpetually hungry officer who uses food as his relief mechanism.

Director Kelly K. Mullan effectively helps her actors to show character development in particularly the first half of the show, as we watch how each comes to terms with the effect of imminent combat and the near certainty of their deaths.

Authentic period music is played pre-show and at intermission. One of the songs that was played became a WWI anti-war anthem for mothers waiting back home. It includes the lyric:

"I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier

I brought him up to be my pride and joy.

Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,

To shoot some other mother's darling boy?"

The play gives one pause to think about all those mothers whose sons and daughters still go off to war, some of whom will meet their ultimate journey's end.

If You Go

What: "Journey's End"

Where: College of St. Scholastica Theatre

When: April 13-14, April 19-21 at 7:30 p.m. and April 15 and 22 at 2 p.m.

Tickets: (218) 723-7000 or css.edu

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