Reprinted from the Buffalo News 12/8/14
'Guns of Christmas'
Down the Walls of War
By Matt Chandler
News Contributing Reviewer
3.5 stars (Out of four)
From its name, to its warehouse location far
from the downtown Theatre District, to the musings on its website, the troupe
running Subversive Theatre Collective makes no bones about the type of shows
it produces. Charging that "Art is not a diversion for the
privileged elite," the theater has built a reputation on gritty,
politically edgy productions. Its current offering, "The Guns of
Christmas," falls right in line with that model.
Set over two days (Christmas Eve and Christmas
Day) during World War I, the play examines the commonalities of men in battle
through the eyes of a group of British soldiers squaring off against their
The set-up is that Percy (Lucas Lloyd), the
sergeant major leading the British troops, dares to ask for a 24-hour
cease-fire so that both sides may rest for the holiday and bury their dead.
What happens over those 24 hours makes for some of the most compelling theater
you'll see this season.
While the acting is what you might expect from
a small Buffalo theater company -- passionate and no-holds barred -- the
brilliance of "Guns" begins with the script. Writer/director
Gary Earl Ross, a longtime educator and prolific writer, has penned a
masterful tale of war, weaving his political ideals brilliantly throughout.
Ross gives his actors a smorgasbord of powerful
lines, and they feast on them throughout the two-hour show.
The play opens with a darkened stage and a
narrator reading an ominous letter to an unknown recipient. It details
the plight of soldiers at war, and it sets the stage (a stage strewn with
soldiers' corpses) for the drama that will unfold.
We will later discover (no spoiler alert,
really) that the letter is written by Thomas (Lawrence Rowswell), the British
chaplain who has stayed on the front lines to support the troops.
Rowswell is a standout among very good cast members, delivering strong lines,
interjecting occasional levity into the grim, dark subject, and delivering a
final monologue that has the audience hanging on his every word.
Across the battlefield on the German side is
Percy's counterpart, Johann, played by John F. Kennedy, who gives a memorable
performance as the leader of the German troops. Kennedy is lively and
passionate in his role, and he carries just the right tone when delivering
some of Ross' most memorable lines, including telling his enemy, "In war,
we are what we need to be, or we don't survive."
That, in itself, encapsulates "The Guns of
Christmas." Ross tears down the stereotypes -- that Germans are
evil, that soldiers love war because they are patriots, that enemies can't
possibly have common ground -- and he does so in a thought-provoking way that
leaves the audience to consider that the more people are different, the more
we really are all the same. He accomplishes this through the cease-fire,
as the men from both sides bond over common desires, namely cigarettes, food
and women. Two by two, Ross brings the combatants together on the battlefield,
to connect over these simple things and to tear down the walls of war.
Rowswell, Lloyd and Kennedy are impressive in
their roles, each bringing enough to the table to carry the play alone, but
collectively making "The Guns of Christmas" a dramatic tale you
won't want to miss.
"The Guns of Christmas"
3.5 stars (Out of four)
Presented by the Subversive Theatre Collective
through Dec. 20 in Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave. Tickets are $25
general admission, $20 students and seniors. Call 408-0499 or visit www.subversivetheatre.org.