The Cripple Creek Theatre Company aspires 'to provoke the general public into social action." In the case of Bury the Dead, which it is currently performing at the Saint Marks Community Center, the social action is clear. It's the same one that the women of ancient Athens tried to impress upon their menfolk during the Peloponnesian war (at least, according to Aristophanes in his comedy Lysistrata). Of course, a striking gesture is necessary to drive home such a radical idea so the women vow to refuse their husbands sex unless the fighting stops. In Bury the Dead, American playwright Irwin Shaw invented a more expressionistic and bizarre gesture to achieve the same purpose. The corpses of four young soldiers (Wendel Lewis, Hakim Young, T. J. Toups, Carlos Gonzalez) simply refuse to be buried. A burial detail of soldiers (Keith Launey, Blake Baudier, David Glasser, Philip Yiannopoulos) digs the graves and puts the corpses in, but the corpses rise to their feet and won't lie down. They stand up, which is the play's call to action.
Director Andrew Vaught sets the mood before the play actually begins. We see the corpses lying on their backs on a black platform in front of a desolate World War I landscape, all dirt and not a trace of green. This is hell without any of the fascinating complications of Dante's inferno. Meanwhile, the sound system blares martial music that's so stirring you feel impelled to run to the nearest recruiting station. Imagine marching off in a spanking new uniform and kissing your sweetheart good-bye as she dabs the tears from her cheek. A hero goes off to war!
Of course, that may be the very fantasy that led these young men to their current anything-but-heroic condition. They stink, in fact, as one of the soldiers complains. They slog through the dreary trials of war like rats and fleas " against the sounds of incoming shells and the rata-tat-tat of machine guns.
These particular cadavers aren't going to take it lying down. They will defy the laws of nature and their superior officers. But who are they? Resurrection, if that's what we're watching, implies individuals of exceptional stature. In fact, it's just the opposite. They are more like John Doe or Killroy " 'Everyman" if you will. That's the point. Wars are fought by Everyman.
They're also young. One of the most common complaints of the corpses is that there is so much they have not yet experienced. They were robbed of their lives before they had a chance to live.
Much of the play follows the efforts of the living to convince the dead to cooperate. The Sergeant (Andrew Kingsley), who is in charge of the burial, appeals to the Chaplains (Emilie Whelan, Megan Staab). The prelates have no luck so the Sergeant reports the problem to his Captain (Dennis McCann). The Captain is put out by this flagrant example of incompetence and insubordination. The problem then goes up the chain of command. He approaches the generals (Jolie Wailes, Charlie Vaught, Freddie Young). Furiously, they order the Captain to bring in a doctor.
If the so-called corpses are alive, send them to a hospital. If they are dead, bury them. Period. According to the doctor's diagnosis, the recalcitrant stiffs are, in fact, dead and have been for two days. And so it goes " total befuddlement caused by the undead. Finally, in desperation, the Army decides to bring in the women who were most attached to the dead men " their wives and mothers " in the hope the women can persuade the deceased that six feet of dirt on their faces is a desirable end to the matter. The scenes between the women and their loved ones are simple and effective.
Simple and effective, in fact, is an apt description of the whole production. There are almost no props and little dramatic lighting. Three levels of black platforms constitute the stage, although some action is played out in the auditorium amidst the audience.
There are some rough spots, which is almost unavoidable with so much doubling of parts. The wives and mothers (Whelan, Fader, Leah Wingate and Staab) double briefly, for instance, as the doctor, the priest and the rabbi.
Bury the Dead is an agit-prop call for civil disobedience. There's no glitz here, just a desolate message and gritty performances.
- Bury the Dead, soldiers lament the cost of war.