The conflict in Europe against Nazi Germany ended in 1945, and was widely perceived as moral and necessary. Its veterans were honored, unlike the controversial Vietnam War, where soldiers were sometimes blamed for the decisions of generals.
William S.E. Coleman served with distinction in Europe in WWII, receiving two Bronze Stars for bravery in action, before becoming a university theater professor. Last night, Houston's Stark Naked Theatre Company a staged reading of Odyssey's End, a semi-autobiographical drama by Coleman portraying a wounded soldier's return from World War II.
Matt Hune portrays Jim Martin, the soldier, who vehemently resists the role of hero, and has a strongly dramatic and moving monologue in Act Two as he describes the horrific truth of what war is really like. Jim's experience in the melting pot of the army has removed prejudice, creating conflicts with his father, Ed, whose insular life in a small town outside Pittsburgh has left him a bigot - think of Archie Bunker in television's All in the Family. Philip Lehl portrays him, and Kim Tobin-Lehl portrays Jim's mother, Ruth, sweeter and cut more from the Norman Rockwell small-town mold. Ruth is not without her own frailties -- her despair at Jim going away to college verges on the pathological. Philip and Kim are the co-artistic directors of Stark Naked Theatre Company.
A blustering neighbor, Harry Bradford, wears his military experience on his sleeve, and is disgruntled that Jim will not take part in the next day's parade - the play begins on July 3, 1945. Harry is played by James Belcher, fresh from a triumph as Mephistopheles in Classical Theater's Doctor Faustus. A neighbor's daughter, Mary, is portrayed by Joanna Hubbard, a much-in-demand local actor, and the deservedly acclaimed Joe Kirkendall plays Mike, Mary's father. Director Leslie Sinclair used this talent well, evoking the conflicts and challenges inherent in the script.
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After his military experience, playwright Coleman went on to a distinguished career in the world of theater, teaching theater arts at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa from1966 to 2000, after earning both a master's and a Ph.D. from Penn State. He has written a number of plays that were produced, and has also acted and directed plays.
In a staged reading such as this, actors have scripts to read from, and lines are not memorized. The actors are at music stands, but still provide some interaction. While far short of a full production, the staged reading captures the narrative, and provides valuable insights to the playwright.
The reading was attended by an appreciative audience, and theater-goers might well keep an eye peeled for other such events, often free, or, as here, with a minimal suggested donation of $5. Wordsmyth Theatre assisted in producing the staged reading, and the Houston Press helped sponsor it.
Stark Naked Theatre's next production will be William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale in the spring, directed by Philip Lehl. Information is available at 832-866-6514 or contact www.starknakedtheatre.com.