Arts & Culture Editor
If there is anything that history has taught people for generations, it is that war is hell. Hell for the people fighting in it, hell for the generals who strategize it and hell for the loved ones back on the homefront. But the real question is, when is someone going to stand up and make it stop? That is only one of the questions posed in University Theatre’s upcoming play, “Bury the Dead.”
Written between the two world wars by American playwright Irwin Shaw, “Bury the Dead” is a surreal play about the refusal of six dead soldiers during an unspecified war. It was written by Shaw in 1936 and was his first play, and it went on to become a major success when it was first staged in New York.
The play itself opens with a military burial service. The chaplains arrive to say prayers for the dead, but then groans are heard from the newly dug graves. Slowly the six dead soldiers – each representing different parts of American society – rise from the grave, pleading not to be buried, asking to be allowed to rejoin the living. Word of their insurrection spreads rapidly—to the soldiers in the field, the generals, the news media—with alarming effect. Even the wives, girlfriends, sisters and mothers of the six men visit them and beg them to let themselves be buried, but all refuse to fade from life.
“This is a very anti-war, anti-violence play,” said Tony Elliot, associate professor of Communication and director of the play. “It’s an expressionist play, so it’s not supposed to be realistic in any way. It’s not set during a specific war – it takes place during ‘the second year of the war that is to begin tomorrow night,’ so it has a very timeless feel, as are the themes and messages to it.”
The cast is made up of 25 students, portraying people from many walks of life such as soldiers, generals, sergeants, mothers, sisters, wives, prostitutes and journalists. The play involves the six soldiers rising from the dead and the word of this unusual occurrence spreading to everyone far and wide. People fear that it will hurt the war effort and the generals become frustrated as they try to convince the men to let themselves die to no success. So, the generals summon the surviving loved ones of the soldiers to convince the soldiers to rest. During these dialogues, each of the six undead soldiers gets their chance to express their grief, regret and refusal to die to their female relatives.
As previously mentioned, each of the characters represent different parts of American society, requiring all of the actors and actresses to step in the shoes of someone else.
“[My character] Private Morgan is very much the intellectual of the group,” says Tony Jadus, who plays one of the dead soldiers. “To get into character as him I have to place emphasis on word choice and how someone like him would say something.”
“My character is a distressed socialite,” said Dezi Somerville, who plays Joan Burke, the girlfriend of Private Levi (Jugens LaGuerre). “I drew inspiration from Blair from ‘Gossip Girl’ to develop her character. I really had to think about how she would feel seeing the man she loved like this – she’d be more disgusted, especially in the position that he’s in.”
“Deep down it’s about these men who gave up everything for war and senseless violence and regret not being able to have other experiences while living, and how someone needs to step in and make the senseless violence stop,” said Elliot. “We hope that the audience sees that and walks away feeling moved by it.”
“Bury the Dead” will play in Rafters Theatre in Dutcher Hall Apr. 17, 18, 23, 24 and 25 at 8 p.m.. April 19 and 26 at 2p.m.
Tickets may be purchased online, at MUTicketsOnline.com, at the Student Memorial Center Ticket Office (Room 103, 21 S. George St., Millersville), at The Ware Center (42 N. Prince St., Lancaster) or by calling the Ticket Office at 717-872-3811. Ticket Offices are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.