We went to see a marvelous, moving play called "For All That" at CenterStage in the Dumas Bay Retreat Center. It was written by Alan Bryce, the company’s artistic director.
Since the 100th Anniversary of World War I was recently honored, and Alan has a Scot’s heritage, he wanted to convey how the war affected the young men taken from the farms and fishing boats of Lewis Island, the largest of the Outer Hebrides, 30 miles off Scotland’s west coast. He chose the Battle of the Somme for the war action, a pointless battle that did nothing else but pit forces against each other and pick off the soldiers when they “went over the top”.
Most of the people had not been off the island except to fish and to occasionally go to another island. They were fishermen and crofters, farmers who owned their own land and all were very able, imbued with the idea of living a pious, self-sufficient and hard working life.
I’d like to say right up front, director Eleanor Rhode did a masterful job with the pacing and the spirits of the characters. Well done.
A spirited opening has the islanders working, greeting, dancing, singing together, and appreciating each other. There are several youngsters in the production and they really add to the life like charm.
The main characters are two brothers - Donald (Cooper Harris-Turner) and Andrew (Joshua Williamson) - who with their ancestors were born, lived, worked and died for hundreds of years. Donald works the farm and wants to marry the local beauty Mairi (Katherine Jett); Andrew also wants a future with Mairi but went away to University.
Before the call to war, Andrew's been away for two years and returns for a visit before his final year. He had courted Mairi and has come back to talk with her about their future. He’s seen so much more than his island life that he wants to move from Lewis and thrive in a big city. He's decided that he wants to become a minister, to help lead people to God. One of the outcomes of this vocation is that he is morally opposed to killing any one.
When war is declared and the Scot equivalent of the National Guard, the Seaforth Highlanders, are called up, Andrew tells Mairi that he will not enlist, will not fight, and, after working in a shipyard for the war effort, decides that he, as a "conchy", will not serve in a shipyard or participate in any other effort to support the war. Conscientious objectors, if they are judged to have a history of the belief, had the option to be stretcher bearers, to drive ambulances, and to work in war industries among other support tasks. Andrew will do none of these.
His island family and friends are horrified. Brother Donald reviles him as a coward, a burning slur in a community of brave people. MacKenzie (Jamie Pederson) is aghast. His best friend Malcolm (Randall Scott Carpenter) can’t believe that Andrew would jettison his duty to his country. That’s not how they were brought up.
Andrew loses his friends at the departure depot, and meets up with an anti-war group with convictions similar to his. He throws his lot in with them but he’s found by the Army, tried and sent to the front. When he hides again, he’s found again and sentenced to 10 years hard labor.
The cast is excellent, all in good voice and nimble of feet as well as riveting as their characters. There were 19 actors in the play, including four members of the Youth Ensemble. The adult ensemble played numerous roles.
I enjoyed the costumes of the island residents, designed by Janessa Jayne Styck: darker, dirt hiding clothing of sturdy cloth, made to stand up to the rigors of their life. All the islanders wore stout boots, built to last, and I liked this adherence to the reality of the times. The only relief from plain dress was their Sunday best. When Donald, Andrew and Malcolm are called up, they march away in their kilts and bonnets. The only items that seemed to be insufficient were their uniform socks and the khaki spats. The socks looked as if they were men’s thin, long, tan dress socks, when you know they would be hand knit and bulky to keep them warm; however, this is a very minor quibble.
The music included several Scotch traditional songs and Bobbie Burns’s poems. Composer John Foster wrote appropriate additional music which worked seamlessly with the older tunes. The musicians, led by Joshua Zimmerman, are always talented and more than worth their salaries.
The play was very moving and I recommend everyone go see this wartime tragedy, let me qualify that. The noise and intensity would be too much for the young or sensitive. “For All That” runs until May 24, 2015 and there are many evenings and matinees available. For tickets and information, call 253-661-1444. You’ll be glad you did.