“It’s easy to feel sorry for people in a photograph, to think you understand life, understand war. It’s easy to look at a picture, wince, keep looking and say you can’t look anymore.”
So proclaims a quote from the play “The War Anthology,” tacked to a large, black lobby display in the University Center for the Arts. The display itself promotes the latest theater production to hit the UCA, “Oh What a Lovely War,” which will debut today.
The play, directed by CSU theater professor Eric Prince, sheds light on the mostly forgotten tragedies of World War I, in a highly unusual manner. Instead of drudging, depressing monologues or bloody war scenes, it appears on the surface to be a happy-go-lucky musical, full of high-energy songs, pretty girls and high-stepping soldiers.
Until you actually listen to the song’s lyrics.
With lines such as “Damp is my dugout, cold are my feet / Waiting for whizzbangs to put me to sleep,” sung in stark contrast to the happiness of tunes of beloved old American folk songs, the satirical, underlying serious nature of the play rears its head.
“It pokes fun at the fact that people don’t take war as seriously as they should,” said senior theater major Bryan Nydegger, who, in his sparkly tuxedo and curly mustache, looked the exact antithesis of the raging, hilariously cruel general he plays.
While director Eric Prince describes the play as “respectful in its humor,” the biting brand of absurdity presents a war that has been diminished, unfairly overlooked and largely forgotten.
The cast of 19 actors, who portray about 130 different characters between them, strive to use their songs, however sarcastic, to educate the audience on a disastrous, aging and oft-ignored piece of history.
Along with their efforts, pictures of the war, accompanied by gruesome facts and historical timelines, are projected on the walls of the bombed, breaking bakery that serves as the set.
“As actors, we couldn’t do it without those technical aspects,” said Kelly Oury, a junior theater major, whose sassy main character coos out the song “Hitchy-Koo” to the men in the audience.
While it contains a history lesson and strong urgings for the audience to remember the tragedies of the past, the production still invokes an amusing and somewhat emotional appeal.
“It doesn’t preach. It doesn’t lecture,” Prince said. “It entertains.”