June 22, 2007
Beyond Glory, true stories of war heroes, written and performed by Stephen Lang, from the book by Larry Smith
Theater: Roundabout Theater Company’s Laura Pels Theater 111 West 46th St. NYC
Show Title: Beyond Glory
Opened: June 21, 2007 Scheduled to close: August 19, 2007
Seen: June 15
Reviewer: Peter Kelston
Submitted: June 21, 2007
Stephen Lang gives a commanding solo performance portraying eight winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Lang has commanded the stage before, most memorably when he originated of the role of Colonel Jessup in “A Few Good Men.” (portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the film)
The Congressional Medal of Honor was created in 1862 to honor members of the U.S. armed services who distinguish themselves “conspicuously… at the risk of his or her own life above and beyond the call of duty.” Many of these heroes have been honored posthumously.
These are the personal stories of eight survivors. There is no ambiguity here. Every story is touching, poignant and harrowing. Each is told in the fist person, occasionally prompted by an off-stage voice which introduces them at what seems to be the ceremony at which they received their medals. Some of the stories are accompanied by sound effects which invoke the scenes of their heroism. Projections on the backdrop are mostly abstract, but occasionally display information related to the story.
Hearing each tell his own story, often sharing what he was thinking at the time, breathes life into every story. The evening also has lighter moments as several stories have humorous touches.
The first story takes place the morning of December 7th 1941. Lieutenant John William Finn, still in bed, is rudely interrupted by the sound of low-flying planes. His tells us that his first thoughts were about the indignity of not being able to have morning sex with his wife and possibly having to miss breakfast. When he realizes what is happening, he mans a machine gun, stays there through the attack, and becomes the only serviceman at Pearl Harbor to return enemy fire.
As one story ends and another begins, Lang changes character as smoothly as he changes his shirt, revealing an upper body that looks like he’s still on active duty and spending a lot of time at the gym. As most of the heroes are not recognizable public figures, the stories can begin to blend together over the 90 intermissionless minutes, and we wonder how closely his portrayals resemble the actual people. But it doesn’t really matter. Each is portrayed with honor and dignity.
By far the most unrelenting story is the that of General James Stockdale (Ross Perot’s running mate in 1992) who tells of over seven years spent as a POW in Hoa Loa Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton. He endured innumerable torture sessions but never broke. We also hear of efforts his wife was making at home to bring attention to the plight of POWs.
This is a humanistic look at how acts of heroism ennoble, even as the heroes themselves remain modest and humble.