Deep Dish Theater Company commemorates World War I’s centennial with English playwright R.C. Sherriff’s 1928 war drama, “Journey’s End.” The production has a worthy cast and fine creative team that effectively communicate the script’s anti-war themes.
The play portrays the non-heroic side of battle for the average soldier. It downplays the fantasies of patriotic glory instilled by military leaders safely isolated from battle and the debilitating fear of waiting for death.
The scene is an officers’ bunker in the British trenches in 1918. Capt. Stanhope heads the company, with Lt. Osborne his closest friend, second in command. Naïve young 2nd Lt. Raleigh arrives, having negotiated his assignment because he worships Stanhope as a hero. Stanhope, whose disillusionment and fear have turned him into an alcoholic, doesn’t want Raleigh there to witness his current state. They all wait in the boring quiet for the Germans to attack.
Most scenes are low-key and casual, with much talk about food, women, home and family, the men’s way of keeping their minds off impending doom. When a raid on the Germans is eventually ordered, there are tragic consequences, further pointing up war’s futility.
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Designer Michael Allen’s detailed, realistic bunker is appropriately claustrophobic, which Marc Maximov’s sound design of grenades and machine guns vividly intensifies. Director Karen O’Brien gets admirable pacing from the 11-member cast, whose believable characters are enhanced by Megan Rutherford’s array of military costuming.
All the characters fall into what now are war-story clichés, but the leads give them welcome nuance. Eric Carl’s wise, avuncular Osborne makes us care about his fate, as does Max Bitar’s Raleigh, whose zeal for battle is heartbreaking. Gus Allen successfully shows hardened Stanhope’s vulnerable side, while Carl Martin makes practical, long-suffering 2nd Lt. Trotter an endearing, warmly humorous character. David Hudson’s bumbling cook, Pvt. Mason, and Brett Stafford’s hypochondriac 2nd Lt. Hibbert add to the range of types.
Despite Sherriff’s attempt to portray the mundane, plodding world of the trenches, the dialog is too often repetitive and drawn out, allowing audience engagement to wane. The production’s tone could use more dramatic weight and tension to fully convey the dread of what may come to pass. Nevertheless, the staging is effective on both thematic and theatrical levels.
What: “Journey’s End” by R. C Sherriff
Where: Deep Dish Theater Company, University Mall, 201 S. Estes Dr., Chapel Hill
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Mar. 11-12 and 18-19; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and March 13-14 and 20-21; 2 p.m. Mar. 8 and 15.
Info: 919-968-1515 or deepdishtheater.org