South Pointe premieres play on war and brotherhood

dworthington@heraldonline.comJanuary 23, 2013 

  • Want to go?

    “Eloquent War” opens tonight at 7 at South Pointe High School and runs through Saturday. Proceeds from Friday’s production will be given to the Free Medical Clinic. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children. Copies of “A Confederate Soldier’s Eloquent War,” on which the play is based, will be on sale.

— Under a relentless summer sun, Samuel “Catawba” Lowry, a 19-year-old captain in the Confederate Army, rolled in the Virginia clay in the trenches outside Petersburg. He was hungry, “dirty as hogs, and awfully lousy.”

Lowry and his soldiers from York County kept a low profile.

“If you struck your head above the breastworks for a minute, a dozen balls would penetrate it,” he wrote. Yankee soldiers, also in trenches, were not more “than a stone’s throw away.”

Still, on July 25, 1864, Lowry would write “all quiet,” as he returned to the trenches after a brief respite just a mile to the rear. It was the last entry in his diary.

Five days later, Lowry and many other York County soldiers would die in the battle called “The Crater.” Union soldiers had tunneled underneath the Confederate lines and exploded 8,000 pounds of gunpowder.

Lowry survived the blast but would die in hand-to-hand combat so brutal that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant called it “the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war.” Thousands of Yankees and Confederates died or were wounded.

Tonight at South Pointe High School, students only a couple of years younger than Lowry will bring his diary to life, premiering “Eloquent War.”

It is a story about Lowry’s home and his family – a story about his beloved Southland. Most of all, is a story about relationships and bonds of brotherhood.

It is also a story that some of the South Pointe cast members hope will challenge the stereotypes of the Civil War and slavery. Three of the essential voices in the play are Lowry family slaves: Horace, Jesse and Henry. They accompanied young Samuel to war. The diary never uses the word slave. Lowry refers to them as servants or boy.

It was Henry who descended into the crater, recovering Lowry’s body. Henry then found Lowry’s possessions – including the diary – and then brought Lowry home to Yorkville for burial.

South Pointe teacher James Chrismon and students such as junior Nicholas Arsenal turned the diary into a stage play. The play is not literal – some theatrical licenses were taken – but it stays true to Lowry’s beliefs and to his prose.

Keenan Cosner, a South Pointe freshman, plays the role of Lowry. Eight other actors play 29 roles.

For Cosner and his fellow actors the play is filled with emotions and experiences beyond their years – hope and hopelessness, despair and death, and wounds and weariness.

If that’s not enough to test their young acting skills, there is the dialogue. The writers were faithful to the prose of Lowry, a gifted writer with a style beyond his youth, hence the title “Eloquent War.”

Student director Justin Norwood, a sophomore, said an earlier South Pointe production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” helped the actors master complex dialect.

“Eloquent War” focuses on key moments of Lowry’s life, such as the second battle of Manassas. Of that battle, Lowry wrote, “We got up and charged forward in a good line, through the woods, over the dead and wounded men, shouting like demons. After passing through the woods we entered on a thicket of cedars and here the enemy send their great shots in perfect hurricanes, crushing and maiming man after man.”

Lowry was among the wounded.

The cast of “Eloquent War” does indeed charge forward “in a good line” and shouts “like demons,” followed by Cosner lying on the stage, wounded.

The play probes Lowry’s inner emotions. During one monologue, Cosner as Lowry reveals, “I write to escape. It keeps me sane. I’m afraid of battle. I’m afraid of death. I’m afraid. I’m truly afraid.”

Anthony McCullough, one of two black students in the play, said the production “makes me realize that black people have come a long way.”

Arsenal said he hopes the play changes some perspective on slavery. “It wasn’t right, but not everyone was treated so badly.

“This play is about equality,” Arsenal continued. “Race doesn’t matter. Anyone can be your family,” he said.

Don Worthington 803-329-4066

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