As ordinary citizens, war is rarely on our minds, let alone at the forefront of our consciousness. Most of us see armed conflicts of the past and present as distant events, sometimes even verging on apathy toward what seems to have little effect on our day to day lives. Yet Andrew Carroll’s “If All the Sky Were Paper,” a collection of dramatized war letters from almost 40 countries written over the span of 250 years, left a resonance of the reality of war that was difficult to banish from the mind after leaving the theater.
Brought to life for the second time at Chapman by 19 sophomore, junior and senior actors under the direction of assistant professor of theatre John Benitz, the letters were not only a tribute to the service of generations of military men and women, but also a testament to the incontrovertible nature of the human spirit. The actors bridged culture and time gaps, many with well-mastered dialects to make the words all the more believable, and took the audience on an emotional trip through history that reminded us of all the things that unite us as people.
From George Rarey (junior theatre major Josh Dominguez), the WWII soldier writing with exuberant glee to congratulate his wife on their son’s birth in his absence, to Sandy Mitten (sophomore theatre major Sarah Jenks), the grandmother standing her ground to fight in the Gulf War, the play illuminated the bravery of those who lived through battle.
The letters were woven together by Chase Cargill, sophomore theatre major, who narrated as playwright Andrew Carroll. He described the process of finding the letters, highlighting what struck him about everyone. Cargill did an excellent job with the part, essentially responsible for linking otherwise unrelated stories together through a series of monologues.
Each story told was more astounding than the last. Sophomore theatre major Donathan Walters rallied spirits as an African-American slave turned soldier who vows in his letter to come bearing redemption against his former owner and rescue his daughter from the slave owner’s clutches.
Junior theatre major Emma Turpen shined as Vera Lee, a WWII nurse who recalls how her transport ship was caught in a bombing attack and how she watched a fellow nurse die, trapped in the wreckage. Turpen told the story so believably that she jerked tears from the eyes of the most stoic of audience members.
Though the two-hour play wasn’t short on drama, the actors didn’t overdo it. It successfully weaved each story together to teach audiences that, regardless of whether or not we’re at war, humans will never be all that different from each other.