Though Journey's End is set in the British trenches of World War I, the play is more about preserving humanity than destroying it. Opening today at the Alley Theatre, Journey's End tells of five officers' enduring civility in the midst of overwhelming barbarism in the spring of 1918, before the last major German offensive.
Together, the five form a sort of dysfunctional family, with each man playing a familial role and coping with the stress of warfare in different ways. "They go outside and they blow people up and then they come back in and have tea," explains Alley actor James Black, who plays Lieutenant Osborne. "On the surface it seems extreme and absurd, but then you realize it's what they have to do to survive." Osborne, who Black likens to the enabling wife of an alcoholic father, attempts to protect this "father" -- their leader, Captain Stanhope -- from the secret that could unravel the fabric of the makeshift family.
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"It's not an anti-war piece," says Black. But he adds, "It's not a pro-war piece by any means. War is bad." Despite the fact that the play is not overtly political, the quagmire of trench warfare is bound to ring a few bells for today's audiences. "We don't have the physical scars on our landscape like they do in Britain," says Black. "But America has not made small sacrifices to war either." Journey's End opens at 8 p.m. Show continues through March 19.
Feb. 28-March 19