“Lines of Fire,” a new play about war letters from every American conflict from the Revolution to Afghanistan, will be performed at Union College’s Yulman Theatre this Friday and Saturday.
The play was written by best-selling author Andrew Carroll. It is being directed by John Benitz, an artist in residence at Union from Chapman University in California, and will be performed by 10 Union College students.
Carroll and Benitz have been collaborating for quite some time, and did an earlier version of the play called “If All the Sky Were Paper,” in November at The Linda in Albany. While that show was a staged reading, this weekend’s event is a full-scale theatrical production.
“This is our world premiere of ‘Lines of Fire,’ ” said Carroll, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and still lives in the area.
‘Lines of Fire’
WHERE: Studio A, Yulman Theatre, Union College Campus
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: $10, $7 for students and seniors
MORE INFO: 388-6545, www.union.edu
“Our earlier version had a narrator, so this is a bit different and the script is actually much simpler. We do have actors who move around on stage, but we let the letters speak for themselves. They are so dramatic and so compelling, you don’t need any flourishing or embellishing.”
Benitz, a theater professor at Chapman, showed up on the Union campus in November to cast the show and returned two weeks ago to begin rehearsals.
“We all got together as a cast in November and did some initial groundwork that first day,” said Benitz. “We got started, and then I asked them to be off book by the time they got back to campus in January. We were in touch by email, and by the time we do the show Friday we’ll have two good weeks of rehearsal in.”
Making up the cast are David Masterson, Jasmine Roth, Will Balta, Kewan Harrison, Robyn Belt, Rose Dumbrigue, Lucy Miller, Colin Nelson, Dan Pallies and Sydney Paluch.
William Finlay is chairman of the theater department at Union.
“A lot of the credit for this has to go to Bill Finlay,” said Benitz, who taught at Siena College from 2004-2006 before heading to California. “He was very forward-thinking in inviting us here.”
In 1999, Carroll produced “Letters of a Nation,” and followed that up in 2002 with “War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars.” Both books reached the New York Times best-sellers list, and Carroll and his work were the subject of feature stories in both the New York Times and Washington Post.
His interest in war correspondence began when, as a sophomore at Columbia University, his parents’ home burned to the ground.
“No one was hurt, but we lost all of our photographs and all of our letters,” he said. “I was an English major and really wasn’t that interested in history. It made me realize how important our history is.”
In 1998, after creating the American Poetry and Literacy Project, which distributed free books of poetry to hotels, hospitals, homeless shelters and aboard airlines, Carroll shifted his focus to preserving war letters.
He wrote Abigail Van Buren, author of the Dear Abby advice column, and suggested people send their war letters to his newest effort, called Legacy Project. Within a year, he received more than 15,000 letters. All the correspondence he received is now part of a special collection at Chapman University.
One of the letters in “Lines of Fire” is by author Kurt Vonnegut, who worked at the General Electric Co. in Schenectady after World War II. Neither Carroll or Benitz was aware of the writer’s local connection.
“I had no idea,” said Carroll, whose website, www.warletters.us, details much of his story.
“I just used it because he was famous, and it’s a great letter by him writing about being liberated from Dresden after the firebombing, and how the Germans were screaming at them and throwing rocks.”