The Christmas Truce of 1914 has often been recounted and mythologized in the century since it occurred. It’s used to illustrate the true meaning of the holidays, as a plea for brotherhood in the midst of violence, and it’s also a powerful statement about how war robs us of our humanity.
“All Is Calm,” a musical play written by Peter Rothstein, simply dramatizes the Christmas Truce, but in a clever, stylized way that focuses on characters and avoids simplistic emotional platitudes. This is the second year the Modern Theater and director Abbey Crawford have presented the show, and it’s certainly the kind of Christmas tradition that could continue for many more years.
The bulk of the story is set along the Western Front during the first Christmas Eve of World War I. Allied troops are positioned on one side of the battle line, German troops on the other. During the night, the German soldiers begin singing carols and decorating their trenches, and the British soldiers soon responded with their own hymns.
By Christmas morning, the once-warring troops had declared an unofficial truce, crossing no man’s land and celebrating the holiday with one another. They kicked around a soccer ball, exchanged gifts, drank and paid solemn tribute to their fallen comrades.
But Rothstein’s show isn’t a traditional dramatization of a much-chronicled moment in history. The truce is detailed by the soldiers reading entries from their wartime journals, and the dialogue is accompanied by complex a capella arrangements of international Christmas carols and hymns performed by the nine-man cast.
“All Is Calm” is certainly not the most joyful Christmas story out there: WWI would rage on for another four years, and many of the men involved in the truce would end up killing one another when combat picked up again.
It is, however, a beautiful, haunting and sobering show, the kind that causes a silence to fall over the theater when it ends.
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