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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 12.11.08




Amid the Horrors, Humanity

Christmas Truce brings peace

By Anna Grace

The Christmas Truce is not average Actors Cabaret of Eugene fare. A small-cast drama with simple costumes produced in the ACE Annex, Truce is a brief play about the power of friendship in the face of war. The work, elegantly written by local author Gregory Foote (SWM, Road’s End), is a refreshing alternative to the razzle-dazzle holiday fare generally offered at this time of year.

David (Colin Gray) and Karl (Nick Forrest)

The story may be familiar to you: In 1914, British and German soldiers on the Western Front stopped fighting in order to celebrate the holiday together. Foote spares no detail in a quest for historic accuracy. Characters carefully discuss the politics of WWI: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the family trees of European monarchy, the British propaganda machine, everything. Grandma even dies of the Spanish influenza. Truce is an extremely effective history lesson, but it’s more than that.

Each of the characters clearly reflects a larger theme such as government innocence or England herself. This makes for a wonderful microcosm of the war. Most of the actors portray their characters with a near reverential respect for the intentions of the author. Colin Gray is strong as the play’s protagonist, thoughtful British solider David. He and sage Karl (Nick Forrest) have excellent chemistry as two enemies with much to share. There is a particularly lovely moment where Karl sings “Silent Night.” And I should note that Cody Mendonca stepped into rehearsals two days before opening yet still produces a lovable character in young Harry. 

Production-wise, the play could use a once-over. The costumes need a dose of mud and real barbed wire, or at least something that could be mistaken for it. The professional recording of “O Tanenbaum” sounds nothing like a trenchful of homesick Germans singing their favorite carols. Some accents are shaky. Nice moments, such as a Christmas Day burial of a British solider, echoes offstage with the same ceremony in German, proving that Foote’s vision, given time and energy, could still develop.

The play ends abruptly and too nicely. If Foote allowed the characters to suffer more, their joy would be more poignant. He takes WWI and sets all its humanity before us, yet he wrings out much of the horror. Though it makes for a beautiful production, I regret that he chooses to portray only the innocence of a pick-up soccer match and not trench foot, massive rats or shellshock. 

The play, like WWI itself, is a sad goodbye to the golden age of Europe. The Christmas truce was a moment of sanity in a world lost to greed and violence. Given that, Foote’s lovely play is a timely reminder of the power of human connection in an age of chaos. 

The Christmas Truce continues through Dec. 14 at the ACE Annex. Tix at 683-4368 or www.actorscabaret.org