Untold Stories of War: "If All the Sky Were Paper" Performed on the Main Stage: Theater Review

Posted by Danny Graugnard

Andrew Carroll founded The Legacy project back in November 11, 1998. It was a national, all-volunteer project which aimed to seek and preserve wartime correspondence. Carroll tried to reach out to many people, asking them to preserve any letters they have received and sent to loved one in times of war. Letters collected were sent by soldiers and their families, and many date back as early as the American Revolution, each one revealing a personal narrative. With about 200 hundred letters, Carroll edited the book Letters of a Nation: A Collection of Extraordinary American Letters in 1991, and then edited War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars in 2001.

"If All the Sky Were Paper," written by Andrew Carroll, is based on his two books. The play activates the narratives told in these letters of wartime correspondence in a way that was delightful, endearing, sorrowful, and sometimes with a touch of dark humor.

We are taken through a journey with the narrator (presumably Carroll), played by Conor Mullen '14, as he tells us of the letters he found, pooled together, reconstructed and reimagined as the untold stories of the ones who wrote the letters. They are put together thematically; there were letters on censorship, of civilian casualties and more.

The play begins with the entire cast on the stage, where they will remain for its entirety. It was an uncommon and unexpected notion that works. With subtlety and impressive quick action; transitions between scenes were seamless, as actors changed costumes and persona right in the moment on stage, giving the play a dynamic feel that brought life into these letters. Each cast member, part of the ensemble, assumed new identities through monologues that were essentially the letters themselves. 

The set design doesn't change much, but what was most dynamic were the images projected in the background. With each narrative coming to life before us, photos of the people who wrote these letters overlooked the stage, driving the unique surrealism of watching the dead rise before you further and further. There are obvious technical hiccups that occurred when the images would scroll in the background, which was slightly distracting. At key moments of dramatic turning points, I found myself ignoring the images entirely.

In the end, the audience received a pleasant surprise when Andrew Carroll himself appeared on the stage for a quick Q&A session with the audience. When asked why he felt theater was the best medium, he replied, "we wanted to do something more theatrical. I love the the theater experience because you can change it. It made it possible for us to convey the stories in these letters with the focus on hope and reconciliation, and hopefully end romanticization of war."

By Andrew Carroll; directed by Larry Opitz; Danielle Turner, assistant director; Sonya G. Rosen '17, Michaela Whiting '16, assistant stage managers; costume designs by Patty Pawliczak; scenic, lighting, and projection design by Garett E. Wilson; Peter Kobor, assistant projection design; Kendall Gross '16, stage manager. At the main stage of JKB Theater. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes with no intermission.

WITH: Brandon Bogle '16, David Brummer '14, Will Clark '16, Ryan Crotty '15, Conor Mullen '14, Christopher Naughton '17, Christine Pardos '14, Patrick Stanny '15, Callan Suozzi-Rearic '14, Sarabell Wrigley '15, Evy Yergen '16.

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