Saturday, February 8, 2014

Row After Row

Last year, when I saw Jessica Dickey's play Charles Ives Take Me Home at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, I noticed her bio said she was working on a play about Civil War re-enactors. That sounded fascinating, and I made a mental note to try to see that show if it played in New York.

Today, I got my chance to do that. Women's Project is currently producing Dickey's new play, Row After Row, at City Center. Daniella Topol, who directed Charles Ives Take me Home, returned to direct this production. Both plays feature three actors and deal both with history and with the present, and both move fluidly back and forth across time. There were other parallels as well.

Both of these works start off promising something very ambitious. They will be asking the big questions. In the case of Charles Ives Take Me Home: What is art? How does one define beauty? In the case of Row After Row: Who truly holds power? Where are we going as a country?

In my opinion, neither play fully addressed these ambitious themes, but they both did something else instead. They told very human stories about interpersonal relationships, and these stories were handled with honesty and compassion. So beautiful were Dickey's portraits of human beings, I did not mind that some of these larger issues fell by the wayside.

Row After Row tells the story of two veteran re-enactors, Cal and Tom, who find that their customary table at a local pub in Gettysburg is occupied by a young farb named Leah.

Don't know what a farb is? Don't worry. It's explained in the play, and far be it from me to point out your ignorance of re-enactment lingo. (Or of schottisches.)

Erik Lochtefeld, seen last year in the magnificent Tamar of the River, plays Tom, a Union re-enactor who must decide in real life whether to support his teacher's union or to break lines and accept a cut in pay from the superintendent. His buddy Cal, played by PJ Sosko, is a Confederate general on the field, but in real life has been dumped by his girlfriend and works a dead-end job.

The newcomer is Leah, played by Rosie Benton. She is dismissive and insulting to the men, but her hostility masks her own fears and insecurities. Tom plays the peacemaker, but Leah is ultimately more interested in Cal, whose aggression matches he own. Much of the fun of the play comes from the way the audience's sympathies shift among the three characters throughout the play. Just when you think you want to write one of them off, that person comes back to display an unexpected side.

Further complicating and enriching the play is the fact that the actors periodically become corresponding characters from 1863. The final monologue, delivered by Sosko, could very well be given both by Cal and by the general he portrays.

If you want to see the show, you'd better hurry, as it closes on February 16th. For more information go here:

Women's Project