"If someone in the year 1916 told me that in 1917 I'd be in the army, I would have thought him insane," said Charles Edward Dilkes (1887-1968).
Meet Dilkes, poet Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918), pilot Kenneth Russell Unger (1898-1979), nurse Amabel Scharff Roberts (1891-1918), "Hello Girl" Grace Banker (1892-1960) and other Americans who went to Europe when the United States entered World War I a hundred years ago. "A Year in the Trenches" is based on Dilkes' book "Remembering World War I: An Engineer’s Diary of the War," and other historical sources. Dilkes was born in Philadelphia, but spent the rest of his life in NJ after the war. Others from NJ are in the play, including two brothers from Cape May. Live music from the period is performed throughout.
The script for this world premiere, written by James Rana and developed with Gayle Stahlhuth, was commissioned by the NJ Historical Commission and the NJ State Council on the Arts. Staged readings of a one-hour version of "Trenches"have already been performed at The Bickford Theatre in Morristown, NJ, sponsored by the NJ Theatre Alliance's Stages Festival, the Ocean County Public Library in Toms River, NJ, sponsored by the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission, and at McGuire Air Force Base/Fort Dix to commemorate its 100th anniversary. On October 17, two performances will be at the Ocean County Community College. One performance is already sold out.
"A Year in the Trenches" with interviews with the creative team is going to be highlighted on an upcoming segment of "State of the Arts" on NJTV.
The talented cast of six includes two actors who are new to the company: Osborn Focht and Ryan Genauldi. Focht's credits include "Paul Simon's The Capeman," on Broadway and "The Magdalene, Kristina the Musical" at Carnegie and Royal Albert Halls and recorded on the Decca label. His film work includes playing Verne in "Bad Parents." Genauldi, a graduate from Drew University, recently performed in "Not Now, Darling" at the Bickford Theatre.
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The rest of the cast has worked before with ELTC. Jennie Bissell ("Strictly Dishonorable"), was in "The Power of Darkness" at The Mint Theater Company in NYC and recently completed her MFA in Classical Acting at the Shakespeare Theatre/George Washington University. Matt Baxter Luceno ("Within the Law"), has worked for La MaMa E.T.C. and the Red Bull Theater in NYC. Regional work includes "King Lear" with Stacy Keach at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. Mike Newman ("Biography"), was in "Life is a Dream" in NYC and "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse in NH. Tara Reuter ("Dracula"), was in "Arsenic and Old Lace" at The Heights Players in Brooklyn and "Love, Sex, and the IRS" at The Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C.
This marks James Rana's fifth collaboration as a playwright with Gayle Stahlhuth and ELTC. Two seasons ago, ELTC produced his world premiere adaptation of "Huckleberry Finn," and last season he played Van Helsing in "Dracula." Recently he performed in Off-Broadway's "The Government Inspector" and is in the upcoming Broadway musical "The Band's Visit," based on the 2007 film.
Stahlhuth is directing. This play marks the 100th show she's produced for ELTC since becoming the company's artistic director in 1999.
"A Year in the Trenches" runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM from September 20 - October 14, except there is no show on Wed. Oct. 4; a show on Sun. Oct. 8 at 7:30; and on Wed., Oct. 11 there is a 2:00 matinee and no evening performance. The location is the First Presbyterian Church, 500 Hughes St., Cape May. Information/reservations: 609-884-5898 or www.eastlynnetheater.org. The opening night after-show party is at Aleathea's Restaurant at The Inn of Cape May, 7 Ocean Street.
The Cast of "A Year in the Trenches" on the first day of rehearsals: Matt Baxter Luceno, Osborn Focht, Mike Newman, Ryan Genauldi, Jennie Bissell, and Tara Reuter.
Photo credit: Gayle Stahlhuth