July 14, 2007
Supporting the Troops with "Beyond Glory"
Souvenir shops have become almost as common as Playbills at Broadway and off-Broadway theaters. So much so that I actually know some people who have skipped the show that's playing and just run into the lobby to pick up a CD, a T-shirt, or a keychain. The Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre doesn't usually host that kind of goodie-bag show. And so as the audience filed out of the performance I attended of Beyond Glory, Stephen Lang's one-man tribute to men who have received the Medal of Honor, we found a young woman standing next to a pile of books simply stacked on the floor. "Buy the book on which the show is based," she called out. "Only $20 and signed by the author." Several men, some of them visibly wiping tears from their eyes, snapped up copies.
Broadway has begun playing the niche market game, targeting different shows to different audiences—Wicked and Legally Blonde for tween and teen girls, Spamalot for their big brothers, The Color Purple for black church ladies and Xanadu for camp-loving show queens—but there's been little aimed at the "Saving Private Ryan" set. In fact, there’s been little entertainment for them period. Even Clint Eastwood is making rueful war movies these days. After four years in Iraq, Americans are fed up with war. But even the most diehard opponents of the war in Iraq, determined not to repeat at least one mistake of the Vietnam War, bookend their harangues with statements of support for the troops. In that, Beyond Glory, which Lang adapted from the oral histories in journalist Larry Smith’s book of the same title, is a play of its time.
I hadn't planned to see it. I've never been a big fan of Lang's (he's always seemed to overpower his roles) and I'm tired of war talk too. But the reviews were so strong that curiosity got the best of me. And I'm glad it did. Director Robert Falls has crafted a production that is elegant in its simplicity. And Lang, in total control of how to best use his natural aggression, is superb. Aided only by assorted pieces of military uniforms that he pulls from an old trunk, he transforms himself into eight very different men, most of them ordinary joes, who showed extraordinary valor under extreme circumstances in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His co-stars are the show's design team (including lighting designer Dan Covey, sound designer Cecil Averett, projection designer John Boesche, and original music composers Rober Kessler and Ethan Neuberg) each of whom has contributed work that is non-intrusive but powerfully effective.
There was none of the usual coughing and no restless moving in seats at the performance I attended. The only sound was grateful laughter during the 80-minute show's few humorous moments. The New York run, which ends on Aug. 19, is only the latest stop on a tour that has taken the show to American military bases around the world and the floor of the U.S. Congress. Lang has insisted in interviews that the show isn't making a political statement. But it is unabashedly patriotic. Only 3,463 medals have been given the nation's highest award for military service since Abraham Lincoln signed the law establishing the honor in 1861; just two have been granted to soldiers involved in the Iraq War. Beyond Glory honors all of those who are serving.