Stephen Lang's acting career took a decisive turn in 2003 when he read Larry Smith's Beyond Glory, a collection of oral histories by soldiers from WWII and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. "[It was] a time when I thought our nation was about as fractured as it had been in my lifetime," he tells us. “I started out with no real purpose in mind to be honest, but I was intrigued by this stuff. As I read the book, the voices were coming through very, very clearly.”
Soon after that, Lang sat down and wrote Beyond Glory, a one-man stage adaptation of the book. Within a year, he was presenting the show in New York and Chicago, eventually going on tour.
Lang included only eight veterans in the show; there were many more in the book. He says he didn't have any trouble selecting the men for the play. “They kinda chose themselves. These were voices that just grabbed me deeply. I had to use them.”
The actor/playwright, who has performed the show at the gates of the Arlington Cemetery, on military bases overseas and in theaters across the country, says the show, while centered on veterans from specific conflicts, has themes that are both timely and timeless. “It's about courage and sacrifice, about honor; those ideals are common to everyone."
This is not a message play according to Lang. "Louie B. Mayer used to say, 'When I want a message, I'll get Western Union.' I've been in theater for more than 45 years and the first word that comes to my mind is entertainment. I want people to enjoy [the show.] "
"Enjoy" might not be quite the right word, Lang admits, given the topic, but he never forgets this is theater. "The intentions behind this play are so kind of infallible that it's a little difficult to penetrate to the “Yeah, but did you really like it?' aspect.
"I've done the show for guys where their sergeant said, 'You will attend Beyond Glory at 1400 hours and you will enjoy it. ' I've done it on forward military bases in Afghanistan. Military families get this. They're delighted when something comes along that's not bashing the military."
"This is the opposite of political theater," Lang insists. "There's no politics whatsoever in this show and yet, at least to my way of thinking, it has teeth. There's nothing homogenized or namby pamby. It's serious stuff. I feel that in that sense, things have gotten beyond politics.
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“Really, this show is my statement about theater. It's about as good as I have to offer. It doesn't matter whether you're a red state or a blue state or any of that business, this is a story that resonates with you.”
One of the most unlikely performance locations for Beyond Glory, according to Lang, was New York City. He was invited to perform at the Round About theater. "There you're talking about a theater audience that's primarily a [very] liberal audience. If they're going to go to a military play, in all likelihood, it's going to be something in which the military gets slapped around. I figured they'd get the theater of it; I figured that would be its saving grace, that they'd get the fact that this is a piece of moving theater."
He was pleasantly surprised at the positive reaction he received. "I felt successful in reaching people who would not be on a list of likely [fans]. They got it. I loved performing there."
Stephen Lang performs Beyond Glory at 2 and 8 p.m. November 21. Queensbury Theatre, 12777 Queensbury Lane. For information, call 713-467-4497 or visit beyondglorytheplay.com. $25 to $100.