A century ago, on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. This was the spark that lit the fuse that set off the First World War.
In commemoration of this centennial, California Stage has brought the trenches back to life in their production of “Journey’s End” by R. C. Sherriff. The play, written in 1928, follows British officers in the trenches near the front line in France, and shows us what war can do to a man.
The strong ensemble cast features all the standard comrades-in-arms roles. Lieutenant Osbourne, played by Robin Henson, is the kind schoolmaster. Brent Dirksen plays Second Lieutenant Trotter, the one who loves his food and counts down the hours he serves on the front line. The timid and weary Second Lieutenant Hibbert is brought to life by Zachary Coles. The comedic company cook is played by Alexander Stallings. The naive newcomer, Second Lieutenant Raleigh is played by Daniel Dorofeyev. Each of these actors put in strong performances, refusing to let characters that could easily fall into the two-dimensional do so. In particular, Dorofeyev shines brightly in his role, creating a compelling foil for the flashiest role of the piece – the “hero” Captain Stanhope.
Brent Randolph breathes life into Stanhope, and is a tremendous highlight in the show. This is great, seeing that he carries so much of the plot. The captain ranges from jovial to brooding to downright frightening when Randolph starts yelling. Still, with numerous character faults, the audience winds up caring for Stanhope, which makes the whole story worth watching.
The set for the show is perfectly claustrophobic and the lighting is very effective. The costumes and props round out the dugout, with nothing particularly jarring us out of the early 20th century feel. The direction by Mark Heckman feels natural, and not too stage-y.
This production is definitely worth seeing. But be warned -in an era in which 90-minute one-act shows are increasingly popular, this three-hour three-act play feels a bit like a marathon. However, the action and tension build throughout, and the feeling of waiting for the storm to come for so long makes the climax even more dramatic. Just plan to take advantage of the two 10-minute intermissions to stretch your legs.
More information can be found at http://www.calstage.org/