Review: “Confederates in the Attic” (City Lit Theater)

Kevin Gladish as "Tony" in "Confederates in the Attic" (Photo by Tom McGrath)
Kevin Gladish as “Tony” in “Confederates in the Attic”
(Photo by Tom McGrath)

Show:  Confederates in the Attic

Company: City Lit Theater

Venue: City Lit Theater

Die Roll: 19

Since seeing “Confederates in the Attic” on Sunday evening, I’ve written and rewritten this column more times than I care to count, let alone admit to.  In truth, I’m struggling with the material of the show, and more importantly with the questions that the play itself poses.  Which means, I suppose, that this play works remarkably well and does exactly what it sets out to do.

City Lit Theater’s Terry McCabe has adapted Tony Horowitz’s memoir/non-fiction opus “Confederates in the Attic” into a play that follows a relatively common travelogue model (i.e. protagonist goes on journey and the audience sees a number of vignettes that assemble into some sort of whole).  Unlike two other shows that I saw earlier this Spring, this play doesn’t model itself after the Odyssey.   The man making this journey, Tony (played with mild-mannered inquisitiveness by Kevin Gladish), is really on an journey akin to that of Isis searching for the scattered body parts of her beloved Osiris.  In Tony’s voyage the search is for a whole and coherent truth about the Civil War and its effects on who were are as a nation, even to this day.

Along the way he collects the pieces while talking to hardcore reenactors, old men who have lived through the country’s greatest changes, young men who still think The South should have won, a young black man who killed a white redneck for flying the Confederate Flag, a classroom at an African-American school that teaches alienation (if not hate), and many others.   The play is a whirlwind tour of the American South of about 15 years ago (not that much has changed).

The play changes locations so frequently that it seems it is a constant parade of newly-changed costumes.  And kudos goes to kClare Kemock for pulling together what must have been a veritable mountain of clothing.  Those outfits were the primary way through which the setting of any given scene was established, and I didn’t become lost on this journey thanks to their guidance.

The acting company was filled with good performances, but a couple of folks stood out.  Peter Goldsmith played Tony’s sometimes-sidekick-sometimes-tour-guide Rob.  Rob is a character whose repeated arrival on the stage is always welcomed.  Goldsmith’s infectious energy makes one almost believe that it would be fun to spend every free weekend out roughing it in a ditch somewhere pretending to be a soldier from the 1860s.

LaRen Vernea also firmly claimed the stage whenever she was on.  She played a number of characters, much like most of the cast (other than Gladish and Goldsmith), and each of hers were clearly drawn and well developed, even when they were only on for a few lines.

McCabe’s staging of the action flowed seamlessly from scene to scene.  The scenery itself was very simple, and because of that the content of the show was more in focus.  Which brings us around to the topic of the questions that are raised by “Confederates in the Attic”.

I can’t really distill the show down to a simple list of questions.  But they are asked of every person who comes in to the audience.  They aren’t always directly posited (though sometimes they are), but through the action of the play one is called upon to look at how we view the events of the Civil War, now ended just shy of 150 years ago.  At the heart of the show is the question that Tony repeats over and over again to each person he speaks with , “What does the Civil War mean to you?”

The ending was a little abrupt.  The journey came to a sudden end without a clear conclusion, but I think that makes it better than if it had tried to provide some discovered truth.  There is a declared discovery about the importance of the Civil War within our history as a people, but that’s a safe statement.  And While they are Tony’s last words, they leave so much left unsaid and undeclared that the play ends challenging the audience to look further for their own answers.

TEN WORD SUMMARY:  The Civil War still affects us.  We must confront this.

RATING: d12  – “Heckuva Good Show”