Theater Review: "Killer Angels"

By: 
Ben Miles
STARRING James Longstreet (left, an emotionally vulnerable Brock Joseph) and Robert E. Lee (played with dignity by Brian Kojac).

Michael Shaara’s historical novel, “Killer Angels,” won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and became the source material for the epic 1993 Civil War film, “Gettysburg.” On a summer vacation excursion to that same-named 19th century battlefield, Maverick Theater founder and artistic director, Brian Newell – as he exited through the gift shop of that famed Pennsylvania battle-site park and museum – purchased Shaara’s book. He read it and, with Shaara’s enthusiast imprimatur, adapted it as a stage drama.

Now Newell is mounting the show in the delightfully intimate Fullerton location that has been the longtime home of the Maverick Theater. With 13 actors performing 25 different roles, and with meticulous attention to period detail, this play provides searing insight into the American Civil War. (Newell’s costumes, which he designed, are perfectly authentic replications of the blue Union uniforms and the gray Confederate uniforms worn by the opposing armies.)

Considered by historians to be the turning point of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg – and specifically the defense of Little Round Top, led by Col. Joshua “Lawrence” Chamberlain (a heartfelt performance by Frank Tryon) – is, under Newell’s skilled direction, stunningly portrayed by this cast of dedicated actors. In this trying account, we are made to understand the desperate situation facing Col. Chamberlain’s troops: they were outnumbered (Chamberlain had hundreds of soldiers; the Confederates had thousands); Chamberlain, a college professor was an untested, inexperienced military commander (he learned battle strategies through research and study); and they were short on ammunition.

What’s a colonel to do? In an unlikely maneuver, Chamberlain ordered a “sweeping” bayonet attack against the Confederates that protected the Little Round Top position and was an essential component of the Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg.

With historic characters scrupulously rendered here – in addition to Col. Chamberlain, we are introduced to Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee (played with much dignity by Brian Kojac); James Longstreet (an emotionally vulnerable Brock Joseph); and George Pickett (a convincing Mark Coyan) – it is a jaw-dropping feat to witness massive military maneuvers reenacted in the cozy confines of the Maverick Theater. With muskets, side arms and sabers, “Killer Angels” plays as if history is unfolding before our very eyes. Not only is this staging technically accomplished (Newell, in addition to lending direction to the production, also created the lighting motif, sound effects and costumes), it is also dramatically astute and factually accurate.

Not only does the dialogue of Newell’s adaptation carry the story, the words also evoke an unexpected emotional reaction. This is in no small part due to the dedicated cast members, which also include Jeremy Krasovic, Michael Keeney, Paul Jasser, Rob Downs, Cameron Moore, Steve Biggs, Anthony Cervero, Nate Vestri and Kyle Hawkins.

This staging of “Killer Angels” has a unique scenic design (by Alex Conway). The audience sits on either side of a raised plank that runs across the small auditorium to stages on either side of the theater. It’s an innovative approach to staging the show, which allows the theatergoers to look to this side and that side, as if witnessing an athletic event.

But the emotional impact of the piece hits us head on when, one after another, and as a dramatic coda, cast members recite the brief but eloquent Gettysburg Address. It’s as if we feel the full weight of the tragedy that was the Civil War through President Lincoln’s timeless tribute to those who gave “the last full measure of devotion.”

“Killer Angels” continues through June 24. For reservations, call (714) 526-7070. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.mavericktheater.com.

ben@beachcomber.news

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Comments

I can't recommend seeing this strongly enough. It's incredible! The writing, the perfect cast ... just amazing

Thanks to the Beachcomber for letting your Long Beach readers hear about this outstanding production. We watched it last night and were thoroughly amazed at the quality of every single performance. This cast is certainly a dream team of actors who clearly love community theater. WOW!

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