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Off Broadway

Death Comes for the War Poets: And Glad to See Her.

Death Comes for the War Poets: And Glad to See Her.
Sarah Naughton, Nicholas Carriere

Sarah Naughton, Nicholas Carriere

Who knew that a play with such a solemn title, Death Comes for the War Poets would reverberate on such varying planes of emotionality and thought? Quite the heady script written by Joseph Pearce, centering around the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), a soldier who fought bravely in WWI, received the Military Cross for bravery, but who also stood up and voiced his dissent with the British government for their handling of the War and the men that gave their lives. The use of Sassoon’s (Nicholas Carriere) own prose adds weight to an already heavy topic, with additional text from other voices of the modern era; T.S. Eliot, G.K. Chesterton, as well as Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). By his side in outcry, is Owen (Michael Raver) himself, a friend, fellow poet, and decorated soldier sharing his own take on the devastation of World War I.

Michael Raver

Michael Raver

On a much more disturbing stance, Death is ever present, standing over Sassoon, in traditional hooded black cape. Knowing this, I must admit, I was not all that excited as I entered the theatre at the Sheen Center on a beautiful summer’s evening in the East Village. A play about War, Death, English poets all in prose filled me with a certain type of theatrical dread (click here for another prose-filled play review). And seeing Death arrive in that traditional garb hovering over Sassoon made my heart sunk a wee bit. Against a stunning background of a white church wall with projections of darkness and fog (beautiful design work by scenic designer, Connor W. Munion; lighting designer, Michael Abrams; and projection designer, Joey Moro), I thought to myself that this was going to be one heavy dark piece of theatre. Then, much to my surprise, Death, played with exciting musicality and sprightliness by Sarah Naughton (Roundabout Underground’s Diamond Alice), transformed. Flinging herself quite dramatically into a whole other interpretation of what Death is and means.  And it didn’t stop with that one provocative shift (subtle and solid costumes by Jennifer Pacheco). Writer Pearce and director Peter Dobbins (The Storm Theatre’s Deconstruction) kept expanding and redefining as we watched Sassoon’s own expansion of mind and spirit. Death became something else before our eyes as Sassoon embraced a new pathway to understanding. Such relief, that this 70 minute play never just sat in its heaviness but danced and sang its way through the poetry of War and Death, never hitting us over the head with a dark melancholy. Ever surprising us with hope, love, and spectacularly beautiful imagery.

Sarah Naughton, Nicholas Carriere

Sarah Naughton, Nicholas Carriere

Much of this has to do with the fine directorial choices made by Dobbins, and the spirited performances by both Carriere (Guthrie Theater’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Raver (The Pearl’s Vieux Carre). They brought life and dimension into their character’s tragedy and pain. Their confusion and desire to understand why such a horrific tragedy would or even could come to pass was as engaging and thoughtful as could be, way beyond the imagined concept that I was prepared for going in. Although I am neither a scholar nor a poetry-master, especially in the works of these two great writers, there was beauty in their misery and Sassoon’s final acceptance and embrace of his spirituality. Much of the language and poetry went over my head, as I noticed others laughing and nodding their heads in understanding and appreciation, but the overall themes and imagery of larks singing and guns a blazing were impossible to not take in. This is a piece filled with tremendous heart and earnestness.  Not exactly what I had in mind on a lovely summer’s night, but as far as verse drama goes, Death Comes for the War Poets was an uplifting experience as we travel alongside Sassoon’s quest to make sense of his life, and life itself.

Death Comes for the War Poets

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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