“Pale Erections: The Monuments Play,” a play based loosely on the militia/white supremacist takeover of Gettysburg National Military Park on July 4, 2000, made its debut before an appreciative audience Friday, May 27 at the Howard County Arts Council in Ellicott City. The play is written by Gettysburg native Kramer Hardman and directed by Gettysburg native Karen Land.
Set in a single stark scene designed by local designer John Rudy, the play opens with two militia members, Orson (played by Ian Kress) and Heins (played by Ike Schlossburg), guarding a Confederate monument “in a remote corner of a civil war battlefield.” They are several days into the militia occupation and are beginning to doubt the mission. Increasingly isolated, they argue, reminisce, express frustration, discuss their doubts about their mission, and argue some more. Midway through the play, they are joined by a third party, Quentin (played by Jeff Leinbach), who claims also to be a fellow militia member, but who quickly turns events in a new direction.
The show starts out in a humorous, almost lighthearted way, but soon takes a darker turn. In a post-production discussion, director Karen Land acknowledged that the play is intended to make audiences uncomfortable.
“I got angrier,” said Kramer, in summarizing the play’s evolving themes. Kress noted that they discovered their characters over time. “Karen would say, “How about this, and we would have to take a few minutes to think how we can get to a new emotion.” Schlossberg, too, praised the directing. “She gave us space to discover our characters.”
The actors had high praise for Kramer’s script and Land’s direction. The play had an unusually long gestation period (performances were originally scheduled for January in Gettysburg but then were delayed due to Covid and then moved from Gettysburg.
Hardman said he has lived the tale of militias, confederate monuments, and Gettysburg’s unique place in the world for several years. “The battlefield absorbs trauma; you can feel it. Not just the trauma of the battle, but ever since.” He conceded a degree of disappointment in how Gettysburg responded to the original takeover. “The tourist industry in this town spends a lot of money developing things to make visitors from Confederate states feel welcome. I asked a lot of the town’s leadership what we should do about the militia takeover and I got no answers; people advised me I should talk to my pastor.”
The script and the acting are both impressive. The play has an evening performance Saturday as well as Saturday and Sunday matinees. It’s worth the drive.
Featured image caption: (L-R) Kress, Schlossberg, Leinbach [Leon Reed]