Reviews for Theatre Banshee's Mine Eyes Hath Seen
Best Adaptation, 2005 Best of List: Dany Margolies - Back Stage West
Best Production, 2005 Best of List: Madeline Shaner - Back Stage West
Best Adaptation, 2005 Best of List: Madeline Shaner - Back Stage West
Best Direction, 2005 Best of List: Madeline Shaner - Back Stage West
Best Scenic Design, 2005 Best of List: Madeline Shaner - Back Stage West
Best Ensemble Performance, 2005 Best of List: Madeline Shaner - Back Stage West
Best Ensemble Cast in a Play, 2005 Best of List: Travis Holder - ReviewPlays.com
Best Adaptation, 2005 Best of List: Travis Holder - ReviewPlays.com
Director Sean Branney has accomplished something rather astonishing with this quietly epic new piece created with Leslie Baldwin. Compiled from first-person narratives written by individuals who lived through--and some who lost their lives in--the Civil War, the effort is like Under Milk Wood with a political message included in the divertissement.
Eight fiercely committed and extraordinarily gifted actors inhabit the skins of slaves, generals, foot soldiers, and presidents, all of whom relive the unbearable horror of war. Using letters, memoirs, speeches, and editorials of the era, this world premiere conjures revelations, the most jarring of which is an awareness that these people were not all uneducated rubes; in general they materialize as literate and well-spoken. How many lives infused with such intelligence, compassion, and promise have been lost through the centuries to the skewed ideals of misplaced political ambition? At least the Civil War was fought for equality and freedom.
Two discourses by Abraham Lincoln are particularly edifying, interpreted at different times by Josh Thoemke and Andrew Leman, and they are disturbing in their opposing emotional tones and opinions. Thoemke's speech clearly reveals that "the Great Emancipator," though determined to abolish slavery, also believed the white race to be superior and in no way advocated the concepts of blacks voting or intermarrying with other races. This, juxtaposed with Leman's hauntingly moving recitation of the Gettysburg Address and its enduring message that "All men are created equal," proves disquieting in its obvious contradictions.
This is the kind of original piece that should be optioned by some fatly funded community-arts organization and be made accessible to kids and classrooms everywhere. Nowhere will our youth get a more engrossing view of American history at one of its darkest moments and, from these authentic accounts of heartbreak and wrenching loss, possibly come to understand what war and freedom mean. Now, if only art alone were enough to bring peace to a savage world, the message might even sink in.
Back Stage West, Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Mine Eyes Hath Seen
** Pick of the Week**
Bales of cotton and hay remind us that in 1860 the U.S. was still a young, rural nation, founded only 84 years earlier. Gallant, tattered, authentic-looking regimental flags emphasize that the American military was a makeshift patchwork of state and local militias. This theatrical montage, created and compiled by director-narrator Sean Branney and Leslie Baldwin, gives us the Civil War in close-up, providing a view that is epic and intimate, gut-wrenching and funny. The storys told in the words of Abraham Lincoln, General Sherman, Clara Barton, fierce fanatics, harried officers, weary foot-soldiers, slaves, masters and women. The eight actors, Josie Di Vincenzo, Dan Harper, John Jabaley, Andrew Leman, Barry Lynch, Kem Sanders, Josh Thoemke and Noah Wagner, give them all eloquent, passionate voices. The rousing battle songs "The Bonnie Blue Flag," "Dixie" and "The Battle Cry of Freedom," beautifully arranged by Matthew Fahey, and accompanied on fiddle and banjo by Mary Ann and Walter Sereth, capture the passions of the day. Arthur McBrides set provides a wonderful catalog of the times, and Laura Brodys costumes blend the blue and gray of the opposing armies into a single blue-gray, representing all.
LA Weekly, Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Personalizing the Civil War
Sean Branney, artistic director of Theatre Banshee, has been sifting through diaries, letters and extant writings from the Civil War period for two years now. The result of his research, Mine Eyes Hath Seen, now playing at the Gene Bua Theatre in Burbank, is not a perfect production by any means. However, this world premiere, which Branney co-created with his wife, Leslie Baldwin, proves a rousing, well-staged, thoughtfully performed and ultimately cathartic examination of the era.
To get the quibbles out of the way first, the most problematic element is the interstitial narration. Clad in contemporary attire, Branney, who also directs, is an inarguably essential kibitzer who provides necessary explanations throughout the play. However, Branneys anachronistic references to contemporary events, most particularly the war in Iraq, detract from the painstaking period ambience.
And a rich ambience it is too, from the backdrop of authentic battle flag replicas, lovingly created by the company, to Laura Brodys realistic period costumes. Fiddler Mary Ann Sereth and banjoist Walter Sereth perform tunes of the day, from martial music to elegiac laments. For the various choral interludes, music director Matthew Fahey elicits full-bodied and robust performances from the actors.
Playing several characters apiece, the performers all rise handsomely to the emotional demands of the occasion. Branneys theatricalized docudrama foregoes exhaustive recapitulation of Civil War campaigns and scrutinizes events from a deeply personal perspective. Humorous, harrowing and always eloquent, the accounts of these long-dead diarists and correspondents are guaranteed to stick in the memory.
Los Angeles Times, Reviewed by F. Kathleen Foley
Mine Eyes - A Star-Spangled Delight
I almost guarantee if you see "Mine Eyes Hath Seen," you will have one of the best theater experiences currently available in Southern California. Theatre Banshee and its cofounder Sean Branney of Glendale present a play of compelling emotion and human tragedy.
The production consists of a compilation of letters, addresses, newspaper articles and memoirs linked by a cool, unbiased commentary of the Civil War in the words of those who lived and died in its unfolding. Even the familiar words, known by every American, delivered here are fresh and inspired.
This "stage documentary," as it is called in the news release, has no writer credited to it, however, it has some of the best writing I have ever had the pleasure of hearing performed. I was struck with one in particular, a remarkably eloquent and poetic love letter from a farmer-turned-soldier to the love of his life, Sara, that rivals any Shakespearean sonnet.
It must have been a daunting task for the play's creator Branney and his partner Leslie Baldwin to peruse through the vast amount of material from the Civil War era and glean the bits and pieces that make up this remarkable presentation, that runs the gamut from the absurd to the sublime.
"Mine Eyes Hath Seen" leaves no doubt in the mind of the audience members of the horrors of war, no matter what the causes that evoked it, no matter how noble. In this tiny theater, we watch the actors almost as if we are watching daily news flashes from the frontline.We experience, in human terms, the full range of the events and excitement leading up to the opening volleys of the Civil War through some of its agonizing battles to the final heart-wrenching surrender of General Lee.
The battle for human equality and personal dignity that the Civil War embodies is reflected in this unbiased interpretation from both the Blue and the Gray perspective.
News-Press, Reviewed by Michael T. Giovanniello
"MINE EYES HATH SEEN" - An Event
When we were in Vicksburg, Mississippi last year, we visited the National Military Park where more than 1,260 Civil War memorials, monuments, statues, bronze portraits and markers, contributed and maintained by the home states of the soldiers who participated in the campaign, honor the memories of men lost 140 years ago in one more useless war. As we walked back to our car, despite my husband's shushing me, I asked the tour guide, "Was it worth it?" I meant the Civil War. And, of course, we were in the deep South. Reluctantly, and very quietly, she answered, "No."
Sean Branney and Leslie Baldwin take on that same question in their new play, "Mine Eyes Hath Seen," an emotionally stirring compilation of letters, memoirs, diaries, speeches, letters and writings from both sides of the battle. Backed by a montage of battle flags (frayed and bloodied replicas made by members of Theatre Banshee), a cotillion of players present a number of characters, famous, infamous, or just folk, as they give their first-person descriptions of the war - an educational, amusing, horrifying and emotional 'blog,' to borrow a contemporary word, of a time in American history that many would like to forget, but which none may.
Lightly referring to the similarities between The Late Unpleasantness, as some Southerners refer to the War Between The States, and the Current Unpleasantness in Iraq, Branney, as the narrator, pulls the telling words from the reams of literature written about the Civil War and puts them in the mouths of an octet of marvelously talented actors, members of Theatre Banshee who do the painful memories, vivid characterizations, and Branney's energetic direction proud. The spirited Andrew Leman, Dan Harper, John Jabaley, Barry Lynch, Kem Saunders, Josh Thoemke, Noah Wagner and Josie DiVincenzo, with Mary Ann Sereth on the fiddle, and Walter Sereth on the banjo, in verse and prose and music, create a memorable docudrama that should stand as one more essential monument to a heroic and agonizing time. Laura Brody's authentic costumes and Matthew Fahey's musical direction lend dramatic credence to help the production qualify as an Event, not only a stage play.
Beverly Press, reviewed by Madeline Shaner
This Week's Pick - Mine Eyes Hath Seen
There was nothing civil about the Civil War in this country, (the War Between the States as some call it). Theatre Banshee clearly brings this fact to the fore with this production, an intricately woven tapestry cut from little pieces of life, sewn together by the imagination and creative talent of Sean Branney and the wonderfully gifted actors who present the story.
There are many accounts of the Civil War, but this one uses the actual words as written in letters and journals by those who lived it from the President of the United States to a freed slave; each narrative has been carefully recounted and brought to life, so that we see the war unfolding through the eyes of the protagonists. World War II had its Edward R. Murrow’s and Richard C. Hottelet’s narrating the events as they saw them to a nation glued to their radios. This story has its ordinary citizens whose simple eloquence keeps the audience glued to the seats.
We learn some uncomfortable truths when the denizens reveal their views, most having to do with race, from Abraham Lincoln’s true feelings about “Negroes”, to the casual Southern outlook towards slavery. As the actors address the audience, we realize the concerns their characters had were often small details, like the taste of certain foods, the color of new uniforms or the taste of coffee. The tiny parts add up to an overwhelming whole, finally brought to a close by the prudent realization of Robert E. Lee that 600,000 deaths were not going to bring victorious closure. So he settled for honorable defeat.
The actors bring these feelings to life, with earnest respect and articulate reverence. Barry Lynch expounds Ambrose Bierce’s views, and don’t be surprised if you feel a tingle down your spine when Andrew Leman recites the Gettysburg Address. Expect to disagree intensely as Noah Wagner explains what General Lee must do for the South and if your eyes moisten a little when Josie DiVicenzo talks about the socks she knitted for a soldier, you realize the intensity of war. Kem Saunders is a riot when he declares that “possum is nasty” and returns as a freed slave who writes to his former master asking financial reparation for the years he worked. His matter-of-fact delivery brings the house down proving that even in the midst of the tragic horror of war; people manage to capture a strange sense of levity. Other compelling portraits are delivered with emotion and passion by Josh Thoemke, Dan Harper, and John Jabaley
Flag replicas of the period, draped across the back and the bales of hay and cotton, barrels and rustic chairs provide an authentic setting punctuated with a banjo and a fiddle played by Walter and Mary Ann Sereth.
Theatre critics can write any number of things about a play, some clever and others even more cleverly, but the best descriptions often come from the audience, who are not critics and just want to be entertained. Walking out, someone asked a friend excitedly “Wasn’t this terrific?”
There’s no way we can top that.
ReviewPlays.com, reviewed by José Ruíz
Mine Eyes Hath Seen
I caught this one just for fun (not to review) at the invite of my friend Toni Bull Bua. She wanted me to experience theinnovative work of the Theatre Banshee troupe who has run their shows at her theatre for the past 10 years. Somehow, I'd never seen them before (so many plays, so little time), but from now on I will definitely make it a point! This play is a powerfully epic view of life during the Civil War. Told by eight excellent actors from actual letters and writings of the real people who lived through it, this is gut-wrenching compelling theatre. Having just gotten LA Weekly's Pick of the Week and Back Stage West's Critic's Pick, I wanted to add a brief The Tolucan Times Rave!
The Tolucan Times, written by by Pat Taylor
Back Stage West
Who says straight plays don’t have 11 o’clock numbers? Andrew Leman delivers a show-stopper in Theatre Banshee’s otherwise seamless Mine Eyes Hath Seen, a theatricalized production woven together from letters, diaries, memoirs, and other writings of the Civil War era. As do the other seven actors in this splendid ensemble, Leman plays a variety of roles: Northerners and Southerners, leaders and followers. But when he takes the Gettysburg Address off the page, delivering it as it was meant to be deliveredaloud and with thoughts of the devastation underlying itit speaks to us with the renewed life only a fine actor can give it.
Theatre Banshee co-founders and the show’s co-creators, Sean Branney and Leslie Baldwin, insist on auditioning company members before casting Banshee shows, so longtime member Leman brought Lincoln’s speech, among others, to his audition. His first step of preparation was memorization. But then, he says, “The thing about it is, everybody’s heard that speech at some point in their education, and everybody remembers the first line of it, but I think people are vague after that first line. And so I saw it as an opportunity to do a speech that everybody almost knows but let them hear itreally hear it for the first timeby not reciting it but by saying it like you mean it.”
And then Leman found his subtext. “It’s amazing how relevant it is to today, right now, except for the specific parts about the cemetery. That speech speaks to me today, loud and clear. When I’m doing it in the theatre and talking about this battlefield, I’m talking about the theatre. I mean that speech, although in a somewhat metaphorical level about the theatre, and that helps me sink my teeth into it.” And that teeth-sinking gives tremendous poignancy to the speech, particularly its homage to those who have paved the way for we who follow.