Directed by Daniella Topol
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Trope after trope thrusts Jessica Dickey’s “Row After Row” into a kaleidoscope of images present and past celebrating humankind’s insistence on moving forward through often seemingly insurmountable “battles” on an off the theatres of war. Currently running at New York City Stage II, “Row After Row” is part of the Women’s Project Theater’s thirty-sixth season of presenting plays written by and directed by women. Ms. Dickey’s play is a haunting, albeit comedic, reminder of the existential angst of living isolated in a vacuum of power with “no army, no flag, no uniform” not knowing “which direction to march, what to kill, what to save.”
As Tom (Erik Lochtefeld) and Cal (PJ Sosko) retreat to an old pub in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania after reenacting General George Pickett’s July 3, 1863 Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, they encounter Leah (Rosie Benton) sitting where they usually sit to drink their beers. A spirited discussion ensues and each of the three is forced to play their full hand of hopes, fears, dreams, and cultural baggage. This conversation is interrupted – or rather paralleled by – enactments of the Gettysburg Charge the three just reenacted and the counterpoint of past and present is brilliantly directed by Daniella Topol and performed with honesty and authenticity by the ensemble cast. Tyler Micoleau’s sensitive lighting and the actors’ speech patterns clearly delineate past from present and Ms. Dickey’s choice to have “the 1863 speeches feel slightly heightened in their presentation, almost like Shakespeare” is spot on.
Musket-like sparks fly as these three wonderfully crafted round and dynamic characters expose their inner turmoil which Mr. Lochtefeld, Mr. Sosko, and Ms. Benton unravel and put on display with the utmost honesty and authenticity. Their characters are not static and each is capable of change and growth. Each transmutes into the Civil War characters they have chosen to reenact and draw upon their counterparts’ passion to move forward in their own lives. Leah, who “has not been able to feel her body in a long time” and “has literally fought for her life,” opens herself to the possibility of friendship with Cal. Tom, still somewhat the deserter, retreats into the relative comfort of his family leaving Cal bereft and bemused. And Cal – perhaps the richest of Ms. Dickey’s characters here – sheds the shards of culture and exposes his vulnerable and fragile inner essentia.
Tom, Cal, and Leah march daily in step with the rest of humankind, row after row into their own oncoming battles fighting for peace and “with [their] hands raised to the future say Hello. Hold, Help.” It is not always clear what their –or the audience’s – battles are or even who they or we are. Isolated by our own design and by the intention of others, we still dare march into the unknown battlefields embracing, with Tom, the hope that “Maybe — the whole goddamn war will smoke itself out. We can
Just live. And we can have our pie. Our pappy. Our pretty.”
The run of “Row After Row” ends far too soon and it is important to see this important play before it closes.