Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 22, 2020

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park (Streaming), All Is Calm

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
from Dec. 17, 2020 – Jan. 3, 2021
by Shera Cohen

For one exceptional week in the midst of WWI in Europe, with soldiers up to their knees in the
trenches sinking in the mud, surrounded by countless numbers of rats, shells firing in an unsteady rhythm, life was as calm as it could possibly be on Christmas Day, 1914. “All Is Calm” depicted a true story, or at the very least historical fiction. The theme took a smidgen of history out of the textbooks to show the audience how one moment in time could be insignificant or monumental depending on life’s circumstances. This was called, “The Christmas Truce.”

Playhouse Theatre Group, a division of Playhouse on Park, had intended to mount the play on the Playhouse stage in West Hartford. Covid-19 and many of the roadblocks that came with the disease, forced major direction changes, remarkedly puzzled together and alleviated by director Sasha Bratt. Stage or no stage, the play must go on, utilizing outdoor sections of forestry as the sole scenery, never forgetting social distancing between the actors.

The week before Christmas, 1914, the war literally halted. It is not easy to classify “All Is Calm” as a play, although that was the initial intent. “All Is Calm” seemed to fit into its own niche as theatre. It could be considered a play with music [not a musical], or music with a play wrapped around it. Another label might be an extraordinary documentary. Audience members will likely experience far more of this performing arts classification in the future as the post-Covid years go by.

Three actors portrayed as many as 10 roles each. British and German accents intermixed, and at no better time did the sounds and words of “Oh, Tannenbaum” illustrate the perfect example that whether on the “good side” or the “bad side” of war, all men were equal; just doing their jobs and oftentimes not knowing why. Good vs. bad was of little matter on this particular eve and day. Life was by no means a picnic, but a picnic it would be on December 25, 1914.

One might suppose that the playwright’s sparse dialogue subtracted from the play’s affect. In fact, the opposite held true, adding to the milieu of the actual events and the story on the stage. Playhouse’s actors/singers gave life, in the midst of war, to Peter Rothstein’s work, portraying at its core, strength of character, wonder, confusion, and camaraderie.