With the war in Iraq still in full swing, you knew it was a just a matter of time before some smart area company—in this case, the Griffin Theatre Company—would revive R. C. Sherriff’s 1929 war play “Journey’s End.” The show has had numerous British revivals and even a successful Broadway run last year and the original West End production starred a 21-year-old Laurence Olivier and was directed by James Whale—of “Gods and Monsters” fame, who would cast Colin Clive as Olivier’s replacement on Broadway and use him for the rarely seen film version and as Dr. Frankenstein in “Frankenstein” a year later—and is a classic of the genre in that, as George Bernard Shaw described it at the time, was a “corrective to the romantic conception of war.” We’re used to that now, of course, and most of our portrayals of war get up unabashedly on a soapbox and proselytize an un-ambivalent anti-war stance, but the amazing thing about “End” is the way that it so brilliantly reports rather than preaches. This group of British officers are dug in a trench mere yards from the Germans during World War I and yet proceed to make life as “normal” as possible while they are constantly waiting for something to happen (“there’s nothing worse than dirt in your tea”). It’s the waiting more than the fighting that shatters nerves, and how shot those nerves are becomes abundantly clear when an exuberant new young officer who knew the commanding officer in civilian life joins the regiment. The camaraderie and need for human contact despite being surrounded by carnage on all sides is what makes this slice-of-life in hell so compelling. You cringe when you think of a work like this being done in British accents, but this Griffin Theatre production has done its homework and every accent in the show—even different class dialects—will make you think you’re watching an imported cast. The ensemble performances are first-rate all around, even if at times you want Stanhope to show what he is feeling in his face and mannerisms more. The attention to the smallest detail, from the uniforms and food to a very realistic set which given the intimacy of the space, makes us feel like we are part of the action, right down to audience coughs from the cigarette smoke. This show is so rarely done and gives you such an unnerving and authentic experience of what war life is actually like that profound insights will be gleaned, whatever your stand on war in general, and the current war in particular, may be. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, (773)327-5252. This production is now closed.