Jonald Jude Reyes is a Writer, Performer & Director in Chicago, IL. His works have been performed in various theaters city-wide, including Stage 773, The Annoyance, and The Second City. In 2016, he was named Best of Stage Director by the Chicago Reader and was selected to the DirectorsLabChicago program. Learn more at http://www.jonaldjude.com.
Pictured: Stephanie Mattos and Eric Lindahl. Photo by Cody Jolly.
By Jonald Jude Reyes
When I was 10 years old, my family went apple picking and not too far from the apple orchards was an area where they reenacted the Civil War. I remember my uncles and I hiking a good distance to get to the area on the battlefield where modern-day civilians could watch without being in harm’s way. It was actually an amazing spectacle of shots being fired, horses galloping through, and men dying on the field. As a young boy, never seeing anything like that before, I just remembered it being “cool.” But there was one moment that sticks out in my head — when we were walking back to our cars and started to pass by Civil War nurses. My Dad stopped one to take a picture with her and she humorously obliged. In my embarrassment of the situation, I was only thinking of how awkward this must be for the actor. Then again, maybe she really relished moments like this.
In The Comrades production of Jessica Dickey’s ROW AFTER ROW, the audience gets an inside perspective on how these reenactment actors actually live. The Apollo Theater Studio space is finely designed in period piece garb for a cast of only 3 that stays in one location. The play opens with high energy as lights flash, gunfire sound effects loom, and 2 soldiers quickly take to the stage. In no more than a few minutes, we’re brought to the aftermath of modern slang, beers, and boys being boys as they walk into a bar. However, these soldier boys – Cal & Tom – are met by an African American woman sitting in their usual spot. After a bit of a tiff, she lets them sit at the table with her.
Tom (Eric Lindahl) cordially starts a conversation with her as they’ve never seen her around there before. Leah (Stephanie Mattos) reveals that she was on the field fighting as part of the reenactment. Cal (David Coupe), utterly beside himself, calls her out as a ‘farb’ (which we learn is a hybrid of ‘fake’ and ‘garb’). Tom & Cal are strong traditionalist, and Cal points to her modern looks and compares their uniform to hers, and then digs deeper as he bemoans the authenticity of having women play soldiers.
Dicky hits on a very interesting premise that questions not only the people behind the garb but to what extent they believe in the construct of that time period. In a Washington Post article entitled Will Civil War reenactments die out?, one of the younger participants talks of how his personal viewpoints clash with the older generation of soldiers performing. He says, “My generation can’t talk to each other. They don’t want to hear another perspective. If you label yourself a conservative or a libertarian, they don’t want to talk to you.”
Yes, people are still committed to living the way of life of the Civil War period. Coupe holds this mentality firmly during most of the play, but at times lets it go for the sake of playing bro-bro to Tom. Mattos owns her role and delivers the proper balance between anger & compassion. Lindahl is very personable and plays his anxieties naturally. Coupe and Mattos play well together through their heated arguments, yet both have an opportunity to take a risk — a touch of humanity would make the ending more attainable.
Without giving it away, Dickey’s characters shift late in the play, delivering an interesting message of promise for the future. The (I assume) severely limited number of Chicago theater patrons who are also Civil War reenactors would do well to see this show — or anyone else that needs their mind opened to other possibilities.
ROW AFTER ROW runs through February 27th. For more information visit www.the-comrades.com.