I guess it’s fitting that I’m getting this post up today for Veteran’s Day. As The Killer Angels, which has just been extended till November 24th at the Lifeline Theater in Rogers Park, is about the most American of wars, our Civil War.
I knew nothing about this play going in, except that it was about the Civil War, apparently it’s based on a pretty famous novel, which in turn was also the basis for the movie Gettysburg, which my older brother definitely forced me to watch many times when we were children. But I hadn’t put that together.
Not that it would have really mattered if I did, I mean it’s tough to worry too much about spoilers about a show with the Civil War. (I know who won the Battle of Gettysburg after all, though it was a fun mental game to try to remember as it went who survives the battle.)
The Lifeline space is beautiful, but it is an-off-Loop black box, so there’s no wonder that director Matt Miller has chosen to double cast his actors as both Union and Confederate soldiers. This for the most part works, and at times is used really effectively to remind us that there were full human beings with hopes and dreams and friends on both sides of the conflict for example having one actor change nothing but his jacket onstage and dialect to switch from North to South. (Though sometimes it’s clear that they are just actors making a quick change and that’s less affecting.)
The most interesting innovation in this production is the inclusion of Matt Fletcher as the Troubadour who sings Civil War anthems (from both sides) over the scene transitions. He also serves as a narrator, but other than helping to keep the various characters (especially those played by the same actor) straight, this can feel a bit like the adapter just wanted to find a way to include their favorite passages from the novel.
That being said, the way the show opens, with the full cast slowly joining Fletcher in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was the most stirring opening of a show that I’ve seen in a long time. (And that song has been stuck in my head since.)
The show runs through November 24th at the Lifeline Theater at 6912 N. Glenwood Ave