It ain’t over ’til … ever?
It was “the war to end all wars,” and it did—for about 20 years. But as we know, peace was, and is, elusive. After World War I came World War II, the Korean conflict (so much “nicer” than a war, no?), and Vietnam, Granada, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. The list goes on.
R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End was written and first performed 10 years after the end of fighting in the first world war and 10 years before the beginning of the second. An old-fashioned drama (three acts, running about two hours and 40 minutes), it’s based on Sherriff’s own war experience. He crafts a gripping drama of men caught in a position they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves and waiting to get out—alive, if possible. It’s still prescient; Sherriff mined post-traumatic stress disorder in the present tense.
Brent Randolph stars as Capt. Stanhope, commander of a British infantry company stymied near the front line in France in the spring offensive of 1918. Stanhope is not as in command as he must appear to his men. He struggles with fears and doubts about his own strength of character, and he drinks (a lot) to medicate. Despite the help of Lt. Osborne (a reliable Robin Henson), Stanhope is barely hanging on as his company waits for whatever awaits them. The arrival of a hero-worshipping former classman, 2nd Lt. Raleigh (Daniel Dorofeyev, strong in his California Stage debut), only puts more pressure on Capt. Stanhope. When the Colonel (Loren Taylor in a cameo) orders a daytime mission across enemy lines, everyone is tested in harsh new ways.
Director Mark Heckman moves the ensemble cast (nine men) with the precision of a drill sergeant. Entrances, exits and tricky, talky scenes are timed right (and the British accents are pretty solid, too). Scenic and lighting designer Niels Larsen creates compressed, close quarters for the drama, and costume designer Jenny Plummer dresses the soldiers well—mostly in shades of brown.