A Civil War Christmas – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

The Connecticut Repertory Theatre welcomes you to a time in history when the North wasbattling the South, when the age old tradition of slavery was being seriously questioned andchallenged and when a President was working to make this country safer and more abundant with freedoms. Thanks to playwright Paula Vogel, you have the opportunity to experience Christmas Eve in Washington D. C. in the year of our lord 1864 in “A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration.”

Ten years in the making, this is an epic production, weaving a tapestry around a handful of the country’s citizens, both prominent and obscure, on Christmas Eve when the desire for “peace on earth, good will to men” was desired by many, but unfortunately not by all. The Civil War is still taking a toll on the nation and this historical and musical tale follows their stories.

“A Civil War Christmas,” with all its grand narrative and dramatic elements, will sweep gloriously onto the stage of the Harriet S Jorgensen Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut in Storrs until Sunday, December 9. It is a magnificent and involving masterpiece of theater that should not be missed.

A talented cast of sixteen actors brings to life a cadre of seventy in this poignant pageant that takes place of both sides of the Potomac River, on both sides of the conflict. Follow the stories of Hannah (Angela Hunt) and her daughter Jessa (Deanna Hepple) who are escaped slaves searching for freedom on a cold wintery night, a young rebel Raz (Kristen Wolfe) and horse Silver (Bryan Mittelstadt) who seek adventure and land in a peck of trouble, the tortured soul of Decatur Bronson (Forrest McClendon) who is trapped in a war and only seeking the safe return of his wife Rose, the poet Walt Whitman (Rob Barnes) who offers hope and comfort to the wounded Union soldiers like Moses Levy ( Nicholas Greika),the talentedseamstress Elizabeth Keckley (Alex Campbell) who becomes a cherished companion of Mrs. Lincoln and President Lincoln (Rob Barnes) who attempts to lead a nation to peace while he seeks a holiday gift for his wife Mary (Erin Cessna), all while others, led by John Wilkes Booth (Nikolai Fernandez) plot his demise.

Throughout the vignettes, American tales all, the songs and poetry of our nation punctuate the action beautifully. Others in this stellar cast include Aaron Bantum, Tabatha Gayle, Pearl Matteson, Sebastian Nagpal, Carly Polistina and Tristan Rewald. Elizabeth Van Dyke directs this inspiring visitation with our past at a timely moment, as we struggle with new and old issues that are still being debated in our nation today.

For tickets ($36-40), call 860-486-2113 or online at www.crt.uconn.edu. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.,Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

There is a promise of hope for peace that permeates Paula Vogel’s “A Civil War Christmas” that she would like to establish as a new Christmas tradition for American families. Catch on to her dream.

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