In the dim light of the Danny Peterson theater, an empty whiskey bottle sits on a table amid scattered newspapers and mugs. A young soldier sits—elbows on the table and his head in his hands—all while a small men’s chorus can be heard in the background, singing, “We’re here because we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here…”
This being one of the many captivating images of the show, the students and faculty of the Boise State Theatre Arts Department are gearing up for their first production of the year: “Journey’s End.” The play, written by R. C. Sherriff, follows a group of British officers in the trenches World War I, who struggle their way through themes of war, sacrifice and brotherhood
“I’m struck by the vulnerability of these men,” said Gordon Reinhart, professor in the Theatre Arts Department and director of the play. “In the end, it’s not about king and country or beating the Germans. It’s about taking care of each other.”
This theme is reflected over and over again, as many of the central conflicts in the script center around how the characters can best deal with each other, rather than their enemy in the opposite trench. Tensions run high numerous times throughout the production, and understandably so, given their surroundings.
“They said this was the wars to end all wars, and I can’t believe that’s not true,” Reinhart said. “These guys (see) gas, trenches, mud, rats, body parts. Our modern military is so trained, but these guys—one of them is a school teacher. They weren’t professional in the way our military is today.”
In order to accurately portray these characters and circumstances, the all-male student cast of “Journey’s End” did a large amount of preparation, such as studying history, learning proper firearm etiquette, working with voice coaches for accents and consulting those who have served in combat.
“Especially in something as supercharged as the military, you want to get it right. Because you can be measured,” Reinhart said. In our research, for example, we found scale models (of the trenches) that were so intricate and precise. It’s our history In (past productions like) Urinetown, what reality are you going to be measured against? You’ll be measured in other ways.”
This spirit of preparation was reflected off-stage as well, where faculty and students are hard at work getting the set and costumes ready for the upcoming performances. According to Darrin Pufall, professor in the Theatre Arts Department and costume designer for “Journey’s End,” the characters’ uniforms back up the themes of the play as well.
“These men are shaving in the middle of the trench,” Pufall said. “There’s a certain propriety to the British way of life, and there are some who have lived through this death and have a more barbaric way about them, but generally speaking, they’re kind of clean. There’s a dichotomy where they’re trying to keep in this hole a little bit of civility.”
To maintain this duality of British civility and the harshness of war, students in the Department have spent the last few weeks making finely-crafted uniforms and equipment look like they’ve been through the throes of combat. That way, for Pufall, they can really become a part of the characters for which they are meant.
“This is just a jacket, but when I can make it specific to a character—showing this character has lived through an important event or series of events—this makes me very happy. I get to take something beautiful and destroy it,” Pufall said.
While the play dips into all manners of drama, comedy and intensity, Reinhart hopes the human focus amid all the horror of war will envoke feelings of compassion and consideration.
“Hopefully it gives the audience a chance to stop for a moment and deal with these men, and I hope they will be touched by these men’s efforts to, as the British say, “make a good show,” Reinhart said.
The first showing will debut on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Danny Peterson Theater.