Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, Red Tape Theatre presents an adaptation by Matt Foss, recreating the horrors of World War I and all wars before and since
Sitting in the darkened theater waiting for the show to begin all that we could see was a backdrop of broken pianos or piano parts, not realizing how they would later be pressed into service to create the jarring visceral cacophony of sounds of battle or a treacherous trail where scouting soldiers would die (Scenic design: Nicholas James Schwartz). Meanwhile, 60’s music regaled us—and likely more than one in the crowd who had been perked by Woodstock’s recent 50th Anniversary and those tunes recently being replayed all around, was feeling compelled to dance in their chair.
Very soon though, after the action of Red Tape’s All Quiet on the Western Front begins, the beating heart of senseless war that spawned this 60’s anti-war music not unlike the harrowing dada art movement following World War I, takes on the fire of the hot times it was born in. This script, as its namesake novel, is born in the cauldron of war. This is a story about battlefields all, where--to paraphrase a soldier in this story-- “.. we can distinguish between what is false and true.”
Like all soldiers always, these are young men sent to battle—or one might say tricked into battle-- by their elders. In Red Tape Theatre’s production, many of these young men are played by female actors, or trans, and you too, like this writer, may have an initial hesitation at this particular progressive casting. Expect to be quickly won over to the casting choices’ brilliance (Casting Director: Catherine Miller) both by the acting skills on display and realizing what a masterstroke way it helps give a shout out about the story’s characters and humanity beyond the trappings of gender.
First among equals is Elena Victoria Feliz as Paul, the story’s narrator of sorts whose quiet restraint from beginning to end always seems to let the barbarity of war speak loudest. Sensitive Paul is PTSD waiting to happen, ricocheted as much by his comrades’ legs being amputated, and falling one after another in battle, as by the drunken jollity of tavern goers in his hometown who don’t have a clue.
Feliz is one of the only actors in this cast that doesn’t take on multiple personas and parts in this theatrical adaptation by Matt Foss based on the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque. For this writer, the dexterity of these ensemble members to do these switches impresses deeply and is one of the many reasons why this a must-see theatrical production. From company commander to shell shocked cynic in the front’s hospital, Ian Maryfield is electric. Collin Morgan is first Paul’s more practical fellow recruit who sees an amputated leg as an opportunity to trade up to better boots, and later does smooth chameleon transitions to be a town drunk blowhard and memorably a sadistic blood soaked surgeon. Caitlin Ewald, in one moment the older wiser company member who knows his way around, quickly becomes a nun nurse, and then in a blink a blushing French girl, and more. All ensemble members shine—no weak link among them.
Red Tape Theatre Enlists Top Shelf Creative Team
It’s the director though (Matt Foss, also the adaptor), and the creative team as a whole that enables the performances by this stellar cast to give us the kick in the gut that any honest portrayal of war should. If the first moments of the play have not grabbed you yet, certainly the first of many riveting re-enactments of battle will, thanks in no small way to choreographer Leah Urzendowski, lighting designer Stephen Sakowski and Dan Poppen’s sound design. Each actor is armed with dispensers of what seems like chalk dust to create skirmish feels, and then flash red when another soldier falls. Battle is imagined in granular detail and broad stroke simultaneously—it is breathtaking!
It’s no wonder that Hitler and the Nazis didn’t want their population to know the truth of war, and so banned this book, as we learn in the program notes. How ghastly that our state of never ending war gives this story profound meaning now, as then.
This play, as the book, has enormous breadth—capturing the saga that is war. Very few playwrights try to take on as much as this script does. Even fewer plays succeed as much in telling their tale so powerfully.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
A New Adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s Novel
Written and Directed by: Matt Foss
A Co-Production with GREENHOUSE THEATRE CENTER
In cooperation with The University of Toledo
Cast: Charlotte Mae Ellison, Caitlin Ewald, Elena Victoria Feliz, Ian Maryfield, Colin Morgan, Alec Phan, Collin Quinn Rice, Laila Rodrigues, Joel Rodriguez, Brenda Scott Wlazlo, Bianca Canigila (US), Austin Rambo (US), Kate Steiger (US)
Artistic Director: Max Truax*
Assistant Director: Kate Staiger
Producer: Ambrose Cappuccio*
Stage Manager: Emily Melgard
Assistant Stage Manager: Dan Poppen
Props Designer: Matt Foss
Casting Director: Catherine Miller
Sound Design and Composer: Dan Poppen
Costume Designer: Rachel Sypniewski
Lighting Design: Stephen Sakowski
Movement and Choreography: Leah Urzendowski
Scenic Design: Nick Schwartz*
Teaser Poster Design : CM Dugan
Marketing Director: Casey Chapman*
Associate Marketing Manager & Webmaster: Joseph Ramski*
Trailer / Videographer: Sarah Potter
Thru September 14
Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays (Industry Night) at 7:30
Sundays at 2:30PM
GREENHOUSE THEATRE CENTER
2257 N Lincoln Ave
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.