Crowded Kitchen Players’ ‘Smile’ commemorates World War I Centenary
It was the “War to End All Wars.”
It was “The Great War.”
It was “World War I.”
World War 1 was waged from July 28, 1914, until Nov. 11, 1918.
The First World War Centenary is observed in 2017 in the United States, which on April 6, 1917, joined Britain, France and Russia to fight Germany.
To commemorate the Centenary, or more to the point, to explore themes of the war, the soldiers who fought in it, and the families who stayed behind, the Crowded Kitchen Players present “Smile, Smile, Smile,” 8 p.m. May 12, 13 and 2 p.m. May 14, Loft Theater, Charles A. Brown IceHouse, 56 River St., Sand Island, Bethlehem.
“Smile, Smile, Smile” was written by Ara Barlieb, co-founder with Pamela Mclean Wallace, of the Crowded Kitchen Players (CKP).
“Smile Smile Smile,” states Barlieb, tells the stories of men and women “who share their tales of boldly crossing the battlefield for Mother Country, their shining dreams of vanquishing foreign foes, and their tragically shattered hopes of ever returning home to their mothers, wives, and children.”
Barlieb adapted the play from the poems of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, A.E. Housman, Vera Brittain and others. The play includes popular songs, both pro- and anti-war, of the era.
“There were several very respected women poets who wrote about World War I, but I was getting the soldier’s perspective for the most part,” states Barlieb, who directs the cast of six: Tom Harrison, Pamela Mclean Wallace, Todd Carpien, Suzy Barr Hoffman, Brian Keller, and Stephanie Steigerwalt.
The actors assay multiple roles in the one-act, approximately 75-minute play. The characters are British and include mothers and wives at home, vaudeville performers, a drill sergeant, three soldiers in the trenches and three Red Cross nurses.
“I’ve had this show in mind for years,” Barlieb says.
Barlieb compares the production to CKP’s original stage adaptation of A.E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad.”
“When I was adapting ‘Shropshire Lad’ into a narrative play, I thought of a few of the other poets who I really admire from that time period.
“I was familiar with the World War I poets before I ever read Housman. I’ve always loved poetry and I’ve always read a lot of it. And some of these poems always stayed with me.”
“Smile, Smile, Smile” contains portions of 46 poems.
“During the war, there were regular epistles from the front from Owen and Brooke, soldiers in the trenches for Great Britain. Brooke and Owen died in the war. They were noted poets in their 20s. Sassoon lived until 1967,” says Barlieb.
Barlieb culled language and verse, weaving a narrative from the poems’ stanzas:
“I really have tried to painstakingly reduce the challenge people have with poetry by turning it into dialogue without changing one word. That’s done by juxtaposing passages from various poems.”
The play opens in a pastoral location somewhere in France immediately prior to the war. That field is transformed into a battlefield trench when the war breaks out. On stage right is an elevated vaudeville stage. Stage left is an elevated platform that serves as a marching field, a mobile army hospital and the home where the women read letters from the front.
The play’s title is taken from the lyrics of the popular World War I song, “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag,” with the refrain, “Smile, Smile, Smile.” The song is said to have been first published in 1915 in London. It was written by Welsh songwriters, George Henry Powell and his brother, Felix Powell.
“Songs from the beginning of the war served as recruitment songs, such as George M. Cohan’s ‘Over There’ and ‘Pack Up Your Troubles.’
“It’s so sadly ironic that somebody is on stage singing ‘Smile, Smile, Smile’ while our troops are being truncated overseas by the enemy howitzers,” Barlieb says.
It’s estimated that 70 million soldiers, including 60 million Europeans, fought in World War I. More than nine million combatants and seven million civilians died in the war.
Technological advances in warfare, including airplanes, tanks, machine guns, poison gas, and trench warfare made World War I one of the deadliest wars in history.
The conflict resulted in a reconfiguration of Europe, the Middle East and planted the seeds for World War II some 21 years later.
Tickets: ckplayers.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; 610-395-7176