Don’t let the music fool you. The stage adaptation of Shenandoah is a drama. Set in the Commonwealth of Virginia during the Civil War, the play explores the impact of the war on a family whose patriarch, Charlie Anderson, says he will protect himself and his family but is against “open season on strangers.” Anderson, a widower, tries to pass his values on to his sons and daughters while militias attempt to enlist his sons and procurement agents attempt to buy his livestock for military use.
So much of the history of the Civil War focuses on the questions of slavery and states’ rights and on specific battles and political tactics that the experiences of conscientious objectors are all but lost to history. At the time of the Civil War, the population of the Shenandoah Valley included Mennonites, a group who are, as a matter of faith, both anti-slavery and anti-war. It is also likely that Amish, Brethren and Quakers, all of whom share a peace witness, were sprinkled across the Commonwealth. As the war, much of which was fought in Virginia, raged around them, their commitment to peace was surely tested. Some broke away from their faith to join the fight.
While the Anderson family’s religious affiliation is never clear, Anderson and his eight children, six boys and two girls, reflect the range of voices found in a populace at war. This variety of opinion is expressed in songs like “Why Am I Me?” sung by Anderson’s youngest son, called simply “Boy,” and his slave friend Gabriel, played by Konnor Clodfelter and Evon Dionne respectively. Their youthful song gives voice to innocents who know their lives are very different without understanding why. Later some of Anderson’s older sons take a more martial stance, joining in on “Next to Lovin’ (I Like Fightin’ Best).” Charlie Anderson’s own awareness of the changing times is highlighted in “Meditation,” powerfully performed by Andy VanDeVoort.
Inevitably, the Anderson family is pulled into the war when Jenny Anderson’s charming suitor, Sam, is called to fight for the Confederacy on their wedding day. When Boy is kidnapped by Union soldiers, Charlie Anderson is forced to act. The transformations that occur within the family following these events are the focal point of the play.
While director Charley Cross admits that his production of Shenandoah is darker than the original stage play, he suggests that this quality allowed him to explore the legacy of the Civil War in a more unique way. This exploration leads to a more hopeful conclusion than the 1965 Hollywood movie version of Shenandoah.
Cross and assistant director Randy Roller have nothing but praise for their all-volunteer cast and crew. With just more than 40 actors, a production crew of 11, a small orchestra and multiple costume and set changes, Shenandoah is a large production. Cross says that Shenandoah makes full use of the Theatre in the Park’s multi-level stage by making set changes on darkened parts of the stage while action goes on under the lights. Although Cross will not reveal much about more about staging, he does say that there are some “impressive” set elements.
Shenandoah is being presented at Theatre in the Park at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site July 15-17 and 21-24. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $7 for children under 12. Visit the Theatre in the Park website at http://www.theatreinthepark.net or call the box office at 217-632-440 for reservation information.
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