Frank Galati’s work “The March,” adapted from the E.L. Doctorow novel of the same name, is a stark saga of a dark and powerful event in American history. Despite his claim, stated in the play, that the Civil War would ultimately become merely another conflict in an unending line of conflicts, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea infamously represents a dire turn in the manner war was fought. It left a nigh-indelible mark on the state of Georgia and the American South. To this day, Sherman’s name is not spoken aloud by many residents of Savannah.
To all that have seen the show, I’m sure it is agreed: the script is sheer poetry. Galati has shaped Doctorow’s prose, pruned it with the skill of a master bonsai artist, into lyric passages and fiery outbursts worthy of a place on the shelf with the finest playwrights of all time. The show is giant: 3 hours of soaring soliloquies and sweeping pronouncements on the nature of the rough beast slouching toward Savannah, and the ashes left in its wake. The play is episodic, following a handful of men and women caught in the wake of this juggernaut, and returning, always, to the man at the reins.
Harry Groener’s performance as Sherman is admirable; a tour de force, breathing tortured life and searing licks of flame into words never uttered before in front of an audience. To hear the voice of Sherman tell it, the South was a snarling cur to be brought strictly to heel with the swift, ruthless, surgical application of violence; he, the man tasked with levying the blow, a job he took to with absolute commitment.
Groener is not on stage for the whole show, however, nor even half of it; some of the other story arcs are not traced with such fervor. Despite what could perhaps be perceived as some flat moments, however, this is a huge piece of theater, executed by many unimpeachable talents. It is a tale of how our nation got a scar. Important work, not to be ignored.