First Presbyterian Theater excels at presenting stories that audiences may not have heard but absolutely should. Their current production, Beyond Glory, shares stories of ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances.
Based on journalist Larry Smith’s nonfiction book of the same title, the play gives separate first-hand accounts of eight Medal of Honor recipients. The stories of the horrors of war — death, amputation, betrayal, and torture — illustrate the determination of the human spirit. While the stories are moving and at times horrifying, they are ultimately uplifting. These men didn’t consider themselves to be heroes. They were just doing what needed to be done, regardless of the cost.
Beyond Glory was adapted by actor Stephen Lang (Avatar) as a one-man show. In this production, however, Thom Hofrichter directs a cast of eight stellar and diverse actors. The monologues take place in the present day, with the older men telling the audience about the events that led to their receiving medals “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, above and beyond the call of duty, in action with the enemy.”
In the first story, John William Finn (Dave Sorg), now 97 years old, recounts that the bombing of Pearl Harbor had interrupted a romantic encounter with his wife. He got out of bed and spent two and a half hours firing at the enemy with a 50-caliber machine gun, sustaining multiple serious injuries. He says didn’t do this out of heroism. He did it just because he was mad.
In another, James Stockdale (Tom Sites), who later ran for Vice President under H. Ross Perrot, details his experiences as a tortured POW in Vietnam. Despite their incredible physical resilience, both men’s monologues have surprisingly tender moments as they recall the people most important to them. They remind us that their families back home make sacrifices, too.
Two of the most moving stories are from World War II veterans from regiments considered by the U.S. military to be “expendable.” Daniel K. Inouye (Chris Ahn) fought in a segregated combat team made up of second-generation Japanese Americans. Vernon Baker (Tony McCarrol) was a member of the all-Black 92nd Infantry Division known by the derogatory nickname, “Buffalo Soldiers.”
Both Inoyue and Baker had to wait decades to receive their proper honors. Despite the mistreatment Baker and his division endured, he never lost his hope that his country “was growing up.”
Other servicemen represented in the play are Korean War soldier Lewis L. Millett (Scott McMeen), who led his infantry regiment in hand-to-hand battle; Korean War Marine Hector Cafferata (Dan Bulau), who batted away hand grenades in his bare feet; Vietnam soldier Nicky Bacon (Jeff Roby), who said he was better at combat than at picking cotton; and Vietnam War medic Clarence Sasser (Danny Reese).
Each of the actors brings tremendous authenticity to their roles. Their voices strain and crack with emotion. They weep. Some remain stoic — or even a little off-kilter. They each convey their characters’ vastly different personalities and attitudes without veering (too deeply) into politics.
Several of the cast members either served in the military or had family members who did. This production honors the sacrifices made by them and every member of the armed forces and their families — past, present, and beyond.
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