The Washington Stage Guild’s production of Amelia – A Story of Abiding Love is a series of vignettes, like entries in a diary, from a woman who searches for her husband during the American Civil War. The play is written by Alex Webb, directed by Washington Stage Guild Artistic Director Bill Largesse, and stars Shirleyann Kaladjian as Amelia and Alex Webb, who performs all the other roles.
In the program notes, Webb says, “This is the Civil War from the perspective of a woman, from the perspective of the common people.” The play’s title says ‘love story,’ while the author’s quote says ‘history.’ Hmm, which one is it?
Let me first say that Shirleyann Kaladjian’s Amelia is an engaging, appealing character, and Alex Webb’s multitude of characters (Ethan et al.) are handsome, whirlwind sprites (both male and female), rustling the leaves and stirring the potions – the alchemy driving the play forward. In fact, Webb and Kaladjian are husband and wife. The play’s energy reflects, perhaps, the true love story between the playwright and the leading lady.
Both the Amelia and Evan characters are from Pennsylvania, and Evan fights on the Union side with the Twentieth Regiment at Gettysburg. When Amelia stops receiving letters, she goes to Gettysburg to try to find him. She is conscripted by a surgeon to be his assistant. In one vivid scene she recalls being sent to the river to wash the saws used for amputation, her stomach turning as she washes off bone fragments and blood. When one of the soldiers dies on the operating table, the doctor brusquely orders Amelia to clear off the table to make room for the next soldier. “Look again,” she says to a surgeon too exhausted to notice the sex of the patient – the dead man is a dead woman.
Amelia travels south, looking for Evan. In later scenes she disguises herself as a soldier, cutting her hair and putting on a uniform, so that she can get into the Andersonville Prison Camp, where she ultimately finds him. “Is that you? I don’t have the strength for it not to be.”
Alex Webb acts the roles of a variety of characters in addition to Evan, Amelia’s husband, which range from being Amelia’s father, then her mother, and an assortment of doctors, soldiers, and horse thieves that make an appearance in this play.
Both Webb and Kaladjian give excellent and passionate performances. Kaladjian’s character reflects on the events of this war and her love for her husband, while Webb’s characters are very active, providing dynamics to the story.
Is Amelia more a love story or a history story? One of the words in the play’s title is ‘Abiding.’ Abide. The modern meaning is ‘to rest, to dwell in peace.’ But the word ‘abide’ comes from a French word (abayer) that meant something like “to gaze with open mouth.” And Old English abide meant to look for, to expect. Amelia moves from her home in Pennsylvania through the battlefield of Gettysburg and eventually to the Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia. She travels in an ‘abiding’ way — gazing and searching for Ethan – with her ‘abiding’ love, and tells us stories about the Civil War. Within the walls of the play, Amelia is first a history story, from a lover’s perspective. But surrounding that is the love story of Alex Webb and Shirleyann Kaladjian.
If you are an American Civil War history buff or a fan of love stories – don’t miss Washington Stage Guild’s endearing production of Amelia.
Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes with no intermission.
Amelia-A Story of Abiding Love plays through January 29, 2012, at The Washington Stage Guild at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church – 900 Massachusetts Ave, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (240) 582-0050, or purchase them online.