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WWI trenches show camaraderie against ravages of war

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"Journey's End" at KCAT in Kansas City, MO

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Kansas City Actor’s Theatre reached back to the 1920s for a World War I drama, Journey's End by English playwright R. C. Sherriff, that takes audiences into the trenches with British officers as they face the horrors of war not far from the German lines.

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Journey’s End runs Feb. 20-March 2 in the auditorium of the World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.

The play, first performed in the West End of London at the Apollo Theatre, (the theatre that recently made headlines because of the ceiling falling), opened with legendary British actors, Laurence Olivier and Maurice Evans. The play spawned numerous production and tours after its initial run.

Journey’s End, set in the trenches at Saint-Quentin, France, toward the end of the World War I in 1918 offers a glimpse into the experiences of British Army officers and an infantry company. The play encompasses the life of the officers in a dugout over four days from March 8-12.

KCAT director, Mark Robbins assembled a strong, all-male cast of seasoned veterans and UMKC drama students, to transport audiences into the WWI era. Journey’s End further brings to life the memory of WWI in that the WWI museum hosts the production.

“The things that attract me to R. C. Sherriff’s play Journey’s End continued to multiply and deepen as we continue to work on it,” Robbins said. “KCAT first stage the play as a reading a few years ago, and at that time what impressed me most was this a real, almost absurdist setting. Outside plays back out is the most brutal, horrific martial conflict mankind had ever seen, while inside is a collection of British officers carrying on the most mundane conversation about cricket, rugger, gardening, school days, meals and the like, with keeping helpings of gallows humor and denial. I looked on the play as a very clever, engaging and ultimately tragic antiwar tale.”

Featured in Journey’s End are: John Rensenhouse, the colonel; Spencer, D Christensen, Captain Hardy; Charles Fugate, Lieutenant Osborne; Joseph Fouriner, 2nd Private Mason; Jacob Aaron Cullum, 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh; Matt Leonard, Captain Stanhope; Matthew Rapport, 2nd Lieutenant Trotter; Nick Papamihalakis, 2nd Lieutenant Hibbert; Logan Black, Company Sergeant-Major; and Matthew Joseph, German soldier.

The production crew included Uldarico Sarmiento, scenic design; Deborah Kengmana, lighting design, Caitlin Tuten, costume design; Michael Heuer, sound design; Trevor Fredericksen, properties design; Chris Winnemann, technical direction; and Jim Mitchell, production stage manager with assistant stage managers, Lacey Willis and Mariah Thompson.

“Sherriff was not in the business of making any great moral point about the horrors and meaninglessness of war and sacrifices it demands. This focused primarily on the great love and friendship that grew among these smallish groups of men, the unit of family network for any necessary struggle to rid the world of a ruthless dictatorship,” Robbins said.

As for the acting, no show could deliver a better honed slate of actors. Each was rock solid in characterization and character development. Each and every character brought depth and honesty to the role and made the audience believe them. The audience learns to care about each character as they discuss mundane matters of no importance to defray their innermost feelings of fear and despair. Some hide behind alcohol. Some find levity in teasing with the cook. Another reads to escape the horrors surrounding them. One treats human life as a bargaining chip for rewards. Each brings into focus the misery that the men endured

Standout performers include Fugate, Leonard, and Cullum. As the lead characters, they steered the show’s focus and brought out the strengths of the others in the cast. Two of the lesser characters worthy of note are Papamihalakis and Joseph. Even though Joseph has no real lines in the show, the fear he demonstrated as a German soldier caught by the British causes the audience to think about the humanity lost in wars and the fears of all soldiers, no matter what side he defends.

“The characters are quite diverse and each is finally and truthfully wrong. I attribute that to the fact Sherrriff was writing what he knew. He knew these men very well, shared with them one of the most significant experiences of his life, and his affection and regard for them is palpable in every scene,” Robbins said.

Journey’s End continues through March 2 in the auditorium of the Liberty Memorial museum. For ticket information, go to their website: www.kcactors.org.

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