EmptyBelasco Theatre, New York
Arriving on Broadway years after its triumphant West End production, this revival of the little-seen (at least in America) "Journey's End" demonstrates that this 1929 World War I play by R.C. Sherriff, rather than being a museum piece, has lost none of its power or immediacy.
This is thanks in large part to director David Grindley's magnificent staging, featuring a sterling ensemble cast that includes Tony winners Boyd Gaines and Jefferson Mays as well as rising young British actor Hugh Dancy ("Elizabeth I") in the role originated by a very young Laurence Olivier.
Set in 1918 in a dugout in the trenches yards away from the front line, the play revolves around a group of British soldiers hunkered down just days before a massive German offensive. They are led by the 21-year-old Capt. Stanhope (Darcy), who has begun to drink to calm his frazzled nerves. His best friend and second in command is the older Lt. Osborne (Gaines), whose stoicism is unwavering. Other characters who figure prominently include Raleigh (Stark Sands), a new arrival and former classmate of Stanhope's; Pvt. Mason (Mays), the affable cook; Hibbert (Justin Blanchard), suffering a debilitating and possibly psychosomatic case of neuralgia; and Trotter (John Ahlin), who hasn't let the war detract from his love of food.
Running nearly three hours, the play doesn't contain much in the way of incidents, instead stressing the constant fear and stress permeating the soldiers' day-to-day existence. Eventually, Osborne and Raleigh are assigned to undertake a dangerous mission, the result of which vividly conveys the senseless tragedy of war.
The actors deliver beautifully modulated performances, with Gaines in particular reaching a level of poignancy and depth that surpasses anything he has done before. The charismatic Dancy here makes a superb Broadway debut; Mays shines in the small but pivotal role as the cook; and Sands is quite moving as the eager but naive Raleigh.
The claustrophobic impact of Jonathan Fensom's set is greatly enhanced by the low-level lighting design of Jason Taylor, even if the latter is at times so dim that it makes it frustratingly hard to make out the actors' features. Gregory Clarke's sound design vividly conveys the booming sounds of the nearby explosions.
Everything about this deeply stirring production, including the final visual tableaux and even the somber curtain call, has been rendered with a sensitivity and craftsmanship that represents theater at its finest.
Presented by Boyett Ostar Prods., Stephanie P. McClelland, Bill Rollnick, James D'Orta and Philip Geier
Playwright: R.C. Sherriff
Director: David Grindley
Set/costume designer: Jonathan Fensom
Lighting designer: Jason Taylor
Sound designer: Gregory Clarke
Capt. Stanhope: Hugh Dancy
Lt. Osborne: Boyd Gaines
Pvt. Mason: Jefferson Mays
2nd Lt. Raleigh: Stark Sands
2nd Lt. Trotter: John Ahlin
Lance Cpl. Broughton
Nick Berg Barnes
Pvt. Albert Brown: John Behlmann
Hibbert: Justin Blanchard
German soldier: Kieran Campion
Capt. Hardy/Sgt. Major: John Curless
Col.: Richard Poe