A soldier walks out of the train that just brought him safely home from war. In the station, a man and his wife pass by while girls wait for a soldier with bouquets of local flowers. One of them eager to kiss him, to love him, but the soldier is not the man she expected. And he hasn’t come from the war unscathed. He is blind. And the man with his wife passing by is actually carrying her dead body. They don’t know the soldier; he has never been there before. He is looking for his father, his last living relative who happens to be a funeral director. The man agrees to help the soldier get there, and the girls decide to follow them the whole way back. They walk for some time, gathering as much information as possible about what’s happening overseas, when the walk comes to a screeching halt. The wagon where the body was being carried has hit a bump on the road and the body has fallen to the ground. The joy of curious conversation has turned to silence. In moments, the soldier will find out in a rather humorous scene that his father is dead too and he has no kin but an estranged cousin. The reality of the situation is constantly threatening the plans of a good time for the people of this Canadian town in the middle of World War 1.
This scene is not long, it is a small fraction of a longer work, but it is one that defines it perfectly. The production is one that combines the harsh realities that they live in with the naïve optimism of the main character, which gives us many laughs to accompany the tears on Project: Theater’s production of Kevin Kerr’s UNITY (1918). Directed by KJ Sanchez, and playing at the Gene Frankel Theatre, the play focuses on the people of a small village in Canada and their day-to-day during World War I, and consequently the Influenza outbreak. It’s a play about yearning and dreaming, about heartbreaks and accusations. It’s a play about how normal life can easily be disrupted, and ultimately haunt you by forces out of your control. It is about living when everything is going awry, about always having that smile even if your teeth are falling out. It is about carrying on when everything is failing. But most importantly, it is about love and those that long for it.
To say I was floored by this play is an understatement. Right after the show I sat on the long subway ride with a book in hand, but I couldn’t read any words. I was thinking about the play. I went home and sat, and thought about it some more. I’ve been to this theater many times. Watched many shows with great budgets and technical prowess. None of those used the space as well as this minimalistic production. Every little nook was used. Every corner represented something. And the incredible cast gave it life with performances that elevated a text that was already strong. Every performance was different and singling one out would be a disservice to the work they did together. The chemistry of this cast mixed with the excellent sound coordination from Joe Jung and the scenic design of Douglas Clarke creates a theatrical experience I will not forget anytime soon. It will stay with me for a long time.
I don’t like hyping things for people or using hyperbole to recommend something, but there are exceptions and UNITY (1918) deserves it. To miss this play will be a foolish move from any theater lover. I can’t stop talking about it to everybody I know who loves the stage and even to those that don’t. In the middle of festival season, there’s this great U.S premiere playing until August 23. Head out as soon as you can to 24 Bond Street, sit down, and be ready. Work like this doesn’t come around that often. Bravo to Project: Theater and everyone involved.
Out of 4 stars:
*All images via Russ Rowland
Twisted Talk: What’s the last show you’ve seen in the city? Did you see Unity (1918)? What did you think? Discuss below!