The cast of All is Calm.
Photo by George Byron Griffiths
The staging of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 is simplicity defined: A black backdrop, a couple of platforms, a few crates, a bit of stage fog, and snow. It's a show that works its magic not with any fancy effects, but with a mixture of heartbreaking storytelling and exquisite singing by the all-male ensemble Cantus.
Over the past five years, the show, a co-production of Theatre Latte Da, Cantus, and the Hennepin Theatre Trust, has become a seasonal mainstay at the Pantages Theatre. It offers audiences a sharp contrast to other holiday fare. Sure, there are finely sung carols and seasonal songs, but there are also the recollections of the men who fought in the trenches and the retelling of a singular moment during World War I.
The nine voices of Cantus are joined by three actors -- Matt Rein, David Roberts, and Alan Sorenson -- who take on the roles of dozens of the men in the trenches (and a few leaders far away in comfort). It traces the story of Christmas 1914, when up and down the lines between the Germans and the Allies an informal truce was observed. The soldiers from both sides met in No Man's Land, swapped gifts and good cheer, and generally acted like everyday, civilized people.
And they sang, which is where Cantus comes in. The ensemble not only features nine excellent voices, but the arrangements are often startling. Even after hearing it numerous times, the show's version of "Silent Night" is still a stunner. The group can be a bit more fluid with some of the "trench" songs, improvising some parts, but the whole thing is remarkably polished and poised.
Director and creator Peter Rothstein has made a few adjustments this year, but wisely keeps the main part of the show to under an hour. The story has a lot of immediate impact that can easily be lost with too much window dressing before or during the truce. After all, the truce itself was just a handful of days at the end of 1914. World War I would grind on for nearly four more years, creating nine million fresh graves along the way.
And while the backdrop is largely either black or pin pointed with light to represent stars, there is one exception. During "Auld Lang Syne," a photograph slowly comes into focus behind the singers. It's a ghostly visage of soldiers from the Great War; of reminders and lessons forgotten; and of the songs in the night that spread through the barbed-wire coils of No Man's Land.
IF YOU GO
All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914
710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis.
For tickets and more information, call 800.982.2787 or visit online.