By Tim Wolcott
Soon before the beginning of the current school year, Bob Graves, the Maine-Endwell High School Spartan Theater Company Director, was asked what they were going to present in 2015-2016. “Would it be another musical or a tragedy?” The questioner (which was not me) went on, “I really liked when you produced those little plays about peace.” Bob wasn’t yet sure what the company was going to do, so he honestly admitted, “we haven’t decided yet.”
Mr. Graves recounted this story in his introduction to this season’s first presentation, “Searching for Peace”, a collection of one-act plays and songs with peace as the central theme. He went on to say, and I paraphrase, “after thinking about all the current wars that are putting American lives at risk, maybe it is time to revisit the theme of peace.” I am glad he made that decision. Too often the courage to trumpet peace is drowned out by the false majesty of war.
The present production was very similar to the 2006 production, but had musical interludes and a couple of additional theatrical acts. The November 7th, 2015 performance was, depending on the piece, poignant, audacious and/or inspirational.
I also had the pleasure of seeing the production in 2006. This production was a reprise of the four original acts – “How Violence Is Ended”, “The Christmas Truce”, “When the Twins Went to War” and “The War Prayer”. The staging was different, but the text was the same. In the Buddhist legend, “How Violence Is Ended”, the clarion call was repeated, “Do not be short-sighted” (seek impulsive revenge) and “Do not be long-sighted” (hold grudges). “The Christmas Truce” recounts the spontaneous cessation of war on Christmas Eve by German and English troops during W.W.I. Hearing “Silent Night”, hauntingly sung, in German, offstage while the English trench soldiers become visibly mesmerized by its serenity was very powerful. The message of Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer” could not resonate more. In that act, a preacher in the pulpit is rallying the congregation to war through biblical passages and patriotic slogans when he is interrupted by a female messenger from God. She proceeds to translate the preacher’s uplifting rhetoric to its barbaric reality. After a prolonged silence of rapt understanding, the congregants declare her insane, and the preacher continues his sermon as the play ends.
During the interludes, talented musicians within the cast amplified the powerful content from the dramatic acts. A faculty member sang, in French, a WWI protest song (while a translation was shown simultaneously) that included the words, “President, if blood be shed, let it be yours.” John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Let It Be” were sung to echo the non-violent sentiment of the production. The evening ended with the entire cast and audience singing Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”.
We all do have to participate in giving peace a chance. This production surely helped us see and hear how.