"All Is Calm" sounds a moving choir of peace from the trenches of war

December 19, 2008.By Brad Richason, Examiner.

If the event weren't documented by so many first-hand accounts, the Christmas Truce of 1914 would be considered too far-fetched for belief. And yet, remarkably, it happened that in the midst of the horrific battles of World War I, along the dreaded no man's land between British and German trenches, enemy combatants laid down their weapons in a unified observation of Christmas. Under a grim atmosphere of carnage and death, longing for the comforts of home, soldiers from all nations joined together in song. Now playing at the Pantages Theatre as a co-presentation of Theatre Latte’ Da, the vocal ensemble Cantus, and Hennepin Theatre Trust, All Is Calm recreates the miraculous event in all its profoundly affecting poignancy.

Cantus sets the atmosphere by opening with a selection of Christmas carols. The warm timbre of their harmonious a capellas cast a mesmerizing spell that seamlessly carries over into the narrative. From the initial enthusiasm of departing troops, through the demoralizing warfare, to the reprieve offered by the truce, Cantus not only captures the emotions of the troops, but channels those feelings to the audience. From rousing rallying cries to lonesome laments, Cantus mines a depth of emotion that emphatically underscores the compassion at the core of this event.

Traditional songs are supplemented by the arrangements of Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, crafting a stirring musical tribute to the season. Perhaps most memorable is the moment when the truce first takes shape. A lone German soldier, exhibiting extraordinary courage, steps forth from his trench to give voice to Silent Night. When his solo is taken up by an inspired chorus of soldiers from rival nations, I'm quite certain I wasn’t the only one in the audience choked up by the heartfelt benevolence.

The production’s spoken narrative is provided by the soldiers themselves. Culled from first-hand accounts, including journals and letters, the dialogue presents the myriad perspectives of soldiers from every background. Some speak with an eloquent poetry while others bluntly express their sentiment, but each voice shares an authenticity that transcends time. Three actors - John Catron, David Roberts, and Alan Sorenson – speak for over two dozen persons, most of whom were directly involved in the miraculous truce. Dialogue is enacted through varied dialects and multinational vernaculars, bringing the story to life through a richly diverse tapestry of perspectives.

The fusing of dialogue and song is so powerfully captivating that the unavoidable breaking of the truce tears at the heart with tragic force. We feel as though something hopeful and wondrous has been crushed. For a fleeting moment we saw the better nature of our humanity arise before it was again buried beneath the barrage of artillery fire.

Nevertheless, the production shows that when enemies came face to face they found each other more alike than different. Each dreamed of a better life for their families. Each wanted to make their loved ones proud. Each was homesick and disheartened by the widespread death and destruction.

All Is Calm inspires with a view of human goodness that extends beyond nationality. In this holiday season, when we speak most highly of peace on Earth, All Is Calm provides the actual realization of those words. Instead of a seasonal slogan, All Is Calm shows a universal goodwill that could be a reality if only we have the courage to act in accordance with our shared humanity.

All Is Calm runs through 12/21/08.