Review | Journey’s End: long, but worthwhile

Gremlin Theatre, through Nov 10

Benjamin Slye, Caleb Wagner, Jim Ahrens, Alan Sorenson and Peter Christian Hansen in JOURNEY’S END. Photo by Alyssa Kristine.

One of the first things to say about Gremlin Theatre‘s production of R.C. Sherriff‘s powerful Journey’s End (playing though Nov 10) is that it’s long: two hours and forty five minutes. Audiences back in the olden days (the play premiered in 1928) were significantly more patient. Moreover, the play, set in British trenches during World War I (which they called the Great War; they lacked fore-knowledge of World War II) is a study of the tension and terror building about the Englanders as they anxiously await an imminent German attack. The piece thus had more immediacy than it does now. It recounted experiences that they, or their friends and family, or their neighbors, very likely had. They Great War had people permanently flummoxed and Journey’s End reminded them of its enduring presence

So why do Journey’s End now, five (or so) wars later? When we are solidly into the twenty first century and when the Great War is a hundred years old?

Because the play, though something of a slog, is an affecting study of courage and muddy indomitability. And onion flavored tea. We have Lt. Osborne (Alan Sorenson)’s casual (and inspiring) courage as he calmly accepts what he knows is an extremely dangerous, very nearly suicidal, mission. 2nd Lt. Raleigh (Benjamin Slye) who gamely accompanies Osborne and then dies heroically when the Germans (the bosch) finally make their attack. There’s the stolid and loyal Sergeant-Major (Bob Malos), whose powerful presence gives assurance that the Brits will win this fight (I wish his part were bigger). Caleb Wagner as the servant. His “Very good, sir”s were delightful. Craig Johnson as the apologetic colonel, sending soldiers to they deaths. “It has to be done.”

And there’s Peter Christian Hansen, Gremlin’s Producing Director, thrillingly affecting as the whiskey-swilling Stanhope, a man who feels his reponsibility and sees the spectre of Death everywhere but who nevertheless manages to soldier on. Wonderful work.

Journey’s End is sensitively directed (and nicely designed; the crooked wooden steps are wonderful) by the über-accomplished Bain Boehlke. Boehlke doesn’t shrink from the play’s length, nor from its static-ness. He uses some highly tasty music in the transitions (Henryk Górecki, if I’m not mistaken). Boehlke makes the play work.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. His The Summer Moon won a Kennedy Center Award For Drama. John has won fellowships from the Jerome Foundatiom, the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation and from the National Endowment For The Arts. Please visit his informational website.

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