BWW Reviews: University of Texas at Austin Presents Family Friendly Look at WWII with THE EDGE OF PEACE
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by Jeff Davis
The Edge of Peace really shouldn't work. Trying to get children to understand and care about World War II is like trying to get them to willingly go see the dentist. It's not an easy road to tread. Still, Susan Zeder's script, enjoying its world premiere at UT-Austin's Department of Theatre and Dance, is able to engage children and families.
As the final installment of Zeder's trilogy about the citizens of Ware, Illinois, The Edge of Peace finds the small town grappling with the realities of a world at war. That reality now includes the possibility that the town's own Ricky Ricks may not be returning from the war. The fear and anxiousness of the town is told through the perspectives of Ricky's precocious and curious younger brother Buddy and the deaf postman, Tuc.
What makes The Edge of Peace so engaging is its honesty. The cruel realities of death and war are not sugarcoated for the children in the audience. Instead of patronizing the audience, Zeder tells it like it is and suggests that if we can band together and accept reality and change, we'll be able to come out on top. She also provides us with interesting and fully-developed characters, something that is severely lacking from many family friendly shows. Granted, the work does have some bumps (the first act is very exposition heavy and ends on an abrupt note that comes far too soon), but overall the writing is quite strong.
Director Linda Hartzell excels at highlighting the hopes and fears of the characters and the relationships between them. However, there are a few issues with her staging, particularly her overuse of the downstage left corner of the stage. Still, she redeems herself for assembling such a strong cast. All eleven cast members are excellent, but of course there are a few that are more than worthy of note. Nate Kelderman gives a strong performance as the young and resilient Buddy Ricks, a boy who is constantly loveable despite his ability to get himself into trouble. Franchelle Stewart Dorn is fantastic as Nell Hicks, the grumpy town outcast. As Girl, Alexis Scott is strong, sure-footed, and independent. But its Robert Schleifer as Tuc, the deaf postman and problem-solver of the bunch, who resonates the most. His face is so expressive, and you can tell that he cares about his friends and neighbors immensely. Though he's not able to express it vocally, he expresses his love for his fellow man in everything he does, and his moments with his inner "voice," played by Dan Lendzian, are magical.
Though it does have a few flaws, The Edge of Peace is an enjoyable and entertaining look at small town America during times of war and uncertainty.
Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, including one 10 minute intermission
The Edge OF PEACE plays the B. Iden Payne Theatre at 200 E 23rd Street, Austin, TX, 78712 now thru February 10th. Performances are Wednesday thru Saturday at 8pm and Sunday and 2pm with an ASL Interpreted performance on Saturday, February 9th at 8pm. Tickets are $15-$25. For tickets and information, visit www.utexas.edu/finearts/tad.
Photo: Franchelle Stewart Dorn as "Nell Hicks" and Robert Schleifer as "Tuc".