Why Do You Stand There In The Rain?

Wed 1st – Sat 11th August 2012

reviews

Davina Moss

at 04:13 on 4th Aug 2012

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The students of Pepperdine University take on 1932’s Bonus March in this exciting and immersive theatrical experience, a fascinating but – as they pointed out to us – largely forgotten near-rebellion in which more than 40,000 WWI veterans from across the United States, beset with poverty during the Depression, marched on Washington to demand payment of their war bonuses in full. Following this intriguing piece of history, the young actors multi-role fluidly to deliver their own unique brand of storytelling, evolving smoothly from a musical fest to a surprisingly poignant piece of political commentary.

The ensemble style worked well to reflect the camaraderie of the soldiers, and a repeated refrain of marching lent a structure as well as a sense of endlessness to the struggle we witnessed. Other symbols floated around as well: the raised red can of tear gas striking fear into cast members and audiences alike, and the stars and stripes flag, whose meaning and purpose became twisted in the hands of those who fought against the war veterans. Music was also used incredibly effectively – opening with almost comic musical theatre-esque numbers, the style became more personal as the actors gave emotive performances of traditional war songs, expressing their desperation and yet fierce and unending patriotism. The roughness of the staging and fluid use of props also added to this feeling of uncertainty which permeated the play, cleverly reflected in a central expanded storyline featuring a young leader and the PTSD sufferer he takes under his wing. Maturely tackled by the two young actors in question, the uncomfortable and unpleasant relationship with reality which is explored clearly probes at the unbelievable truth of the whole affair. As an awareness-raising production it is certainly successful, informing and educating its audience without boring them, pushing us none too gently to their view on the US government.

However there were certainly downsides to the production. At ninety minutes it’s on the longer side of the Fringe and some judicious editing may well have done it good; moments and sequences dragged. Comedy and lightness was dropped perhaps too suddenly and the play’s swift descend into tragedy was a little jarring. But for such young performers tackling such difficult issues, ‘Why Do You Stand There In The Rain?’ is ambitious, strong, and thought-provoking.

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Julia Chapman

at 09:35 on 4th Aug 2012

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A story of neglected war veterans fighting for their rights provided the perfect combination of entertainment and education to be expected from a well-executed historical drama.

'Why Do You Stand There in the Rain?' told the story of American WWI vets struggling with poverty and deprived of a promised bonus. In a largely forgotten piece of history, former soldiers from all over the US marched on Washington in 1932, setting up camp outside the White House determined to receive their bonus, facing great adversity along the way.

It was surprising to find musical numbers in a play tackling such serious themes which was not billed as a musical. However incongruous, the songs enlivened the piece substantially, redeeming the production from potential historical tedium. In particular, the rendition of ‘This Land is Your Land’ in a minor key was haunting. The music, written for the show, was of a high enough quality to have sustained a full musical. In fact, 'Why Do You Stand There in the Rain?' at times resembled RENT in its fervent musical appeal for the rights of the overlooked underdog.

Aesthetically the show was extremely coherent, with muted colours of khaki and denim throughout as well as costumes not literally depicting Depression-era soldiers but generically representing any American and even any era. Some of the subtle touches of the show stood out, in particular the homemade sound effects which were notable for their striking authenticity.

'Why Do You Stand There in the Rain?' was an ensemble piece. Most of the characters didn’t have names and all of the actors performed multiple roles. This effect highlighted the call for unity the play expressed. The production opened with the vets sitting onstage with linked arms and blank stares, collectively defying the audience to challenge their cause. The only named characters who were not historical figures were Joe and Johnny, whose friendship provided the human interest of the play in a very moving story.

The play seamlessly integrated musical numbers, scripted dialogue and quotes from real soldiers, politicians and journalists of the era. The intensity of the actors carried the show through its longevity, but the number of historical titbits scattered throughout often made the plot lag; yet the show was so well-crafted that the segments of greater interest compensated for the duller periods.

Pepperdine University’s talented students are to be commended for their attempt to spread awareness of a little-acknowledged fragment of history. Unfailingly American, the patriotic passion of these students shone through, and despite some grating enthusiasm, the show would have been boring without such energy. Extremely polished, 'Why Do You Stand There in the Rain?' was an engaging lesson in forgotten history.

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