San Diego Theater Preview: FADED GLORY (North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on May 26, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

AMERICAN HERO OR AMERICAN ZERO?

While researching a speech on the origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” I came across a name that I remembered from a visit to Gettysburg National Military Park—Major General Daniel E. Sickles, Union Third Army Corps commander. One of the most controversial figures in American history, Sickles has an almost universally negative image among modern Civil War enthusiasts. But “controversy” was this scalawag’s middle name throughout his life.

Shana Wride, Andy Barnicle, Ben Cole, and Frances Rivera in North Coast Rep's FADED GLORY.Now, following its highly successful production of Mandate Memories, North Coast Rep is bringing Sickles to life in Faded Glory, another world premiere for the company. Written by Tim Burns, this play tells the improbable but true story of this friend to presidents, lover of Queen Isabella II of Spain, 19th-century congressman, notorious philanderer, embezzler, and murderer. Born in 1819, this real-life figure and his amazing life will take to the stage beginning May 28. North Coast Rep has tagged this “compelling new drama” as a “poignant, rollicking, comedic romp.”

Shana Wride and Andy Barnicle in North Coast Rep's FADED GLORY.I won’t give away too many details. I’ll leave that to Mr. Burns, who will no doubt offer surprise after surprise about this infamous man, but I will say that the “murderer” label had to do indirectly with Francis Scott Key. Sickles gained national attention when in 1859 he shot and killed his young wife’s lover, Francis Barton Key, the son of the author whose poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” became the lyrics of our national anthem. During the ensuing trial, in which Sickles was represented by Edwin M. Stanton (who would become Lincoln’s Secretary of War), he for the first time in U.S. jurisprudence pleaded the “unwritten law” (self-defense of one’s wife as his own property) and…well, I won’t tell you the other plea or the outcome.

Rachel VanWormer, Bruce Turk, Shana Wride, and Andy Barnicle in North Coast Rep's FADED GLORY.Sickles was also the officer who almost cost the Union victory in perhaps the most pivotal battle of the Civil War. From Sharpsburg to Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville, this man of many soldierly qualities who was utterly fearless in combat was often at odds with his superiors. At Gettysburg, he disobeyed General George Meade’s orders and advanced to the Peach Orchard instead of occupying Little Round Top. The ensuing debacle caused the evaporation of his Corps and termination of his command in the field by virtue of a serious wound which cost him his right leg, yet he was subsequently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his services at Gettysburg.

The leg of Major General Daniel E. Sickles, Union Third Army Corps commander, on display at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.I’m chomping at the bit to find out more in Faded Glory. It’s no secret what happened after Sickle’s recovery at Gettysburg: He donated his amputated right leg to the Army Medical Museum in Washington (the leg, which was recreated for a scene in the 2012 film Lincoln, continues to be displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine). But what was it about Sickles that kept him in favor with politicians of the day? After Gettysburg, he performed a diplomatic mission to Colombia; he served as Military Governor of South Carolina; he was appointed Minister to Spain by President Grant; and returned to Congress where he already served during the antebellum period.

Bruce Turk and Shana Wride in North Coast Rep's FADED GLORY.I don’t know what North Coast Rep has up its sleeve, and I don’t want to know any more until I see the play. Furthering the intrigue are some of the characters: We will meet the lusty and busty Queen Isabella II; Carmina Creagh, one of the General’s wives, a religious mystic and old-world dowager; Lenott Parlaghy, a portrait artist and pioneer feminist; Eleanor Wilmerding, the general’s nurse, housekeeper, and confidante who leads a secret life; and Frank Butler, Eleanor’s cousin and drinking buddy of the actor, alcoholic and womanizer, John Barrymore, who is also on the cast list. John Barrymore? Now this I gotta see.

Bruce Turk and Andy Barnicle in North Coast Rep's FADED GLORY.North Coast Rep Artistic Director David Ellenstein will direct Andrew Barnicle as Sickles; Barnicle served as artistic director of The Laguna Play­house from 1991 through 2010. Shana Wride, who was last seen at North Coast Rep in Broken Glass, will play Eleanor. Bruce Turk, who has worked extensively with Julie Taymor, appearing in her productions of Titus Andronicus, Juan Darien, and The Green Bird, will play John Barrymore. In a variety of roles are Ben Cole (The Foreigner at Lamb’s Players), Frances Anita Rivera (The Norman Conquests at Cygnet), and Rachel VanWormer (Travesties at Cygnet). Expect the superb design details typical of North Coast Rep. I’d say “break a leg,” but that might be redundant.

Gen. Dan Sickles (Library of Congress)production photos by Aaron Rumley

Faded Glory
North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach
Wed. @ 7pm, Thurs-Sat @ 8PM;
Sat & Sun @ 2PM, Sun @7pm
May 28 – June 22, 2014
for tickets, call (858) 481-1055
or visit www.northcoastrep.org

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