By Michael Gary Clendenin
I had the pleasure of seeing the world premiere of the stage adaptation of Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation Speaks at Fauquier Community Theatre, adapted and directed by Dr. Harry Kantrovich.
The Greatest Generation Speaks collects the vast outpouring of communications Brokaw received from men and women eager to share their intensely personal stories of a momentous time in America’s history, those who grew up during the Great Depression of the 1920s and made great sacrifices in World War II. Some describe the front during the war, others recall loved ones in danger in distant places. They offer first-hand accounts of battles, poignant reflections on loneliness, exuberant expressions of love, and somber feelings of loss.
Kantrovich’s idea for the project was presented to Tom Brokaw after communications with Brokaw’s publisher and executive assistants. Kantrovich wanted to adapt this book for the stage in order to keep history alive and to educate. Brokaw immediately approved, and he and his staff have been involved in the stage production from the onset of the writing process through putting it on the stage. The result is a profoundly stirring stage experience.
Upon entering the theater lobby, the audience is greeted by a poster of Victoria Mackey Hulick, a Navy WAVE and pioneer code breaker. There are no actor headshots like you often see in theater lobbies. Instead, the lobby is full of photos and write-ups of World War Two heroes collected by the show’s cast, crew, and friends.
The audience takes their seats to World War II–era music designed by Walter Stewart, while watching photos of those World War II heroes stream across the projection screen. The curtain is drawn and into view comes a very intimate home-like setting designed by Lisa Stewart with set decoration by Drew and Debbie Fleming.
The large cast of 28 actors nailed it, giving performances fully appropriate to a world premiere. I was transported and felt as if I were watching the actual interviews between Tom Brokaw and these individuals. The actors disappeared into their characters, people who participated in, or were related to someone who participated in, a cataclysmic world war, and who then turned around and built the very world we live in today.
I hesitate to call these actors out because everyone did so well, but a couple of standout performances to me were Jim Constable in a perfectly nuanced presentation of Tom Brokaw (as opposed to what could have been a caricature), and Edgar Johnson, presenting the difficult experience of dignified African Americans serving their country despite the indignity of their country’s and the military’s treatment of them.
Lisa Stewart designed the lighting, which throughout the production maintains a very cool effect, as well as the projections, which appear behind each character coordinated with their dialog. Since the book was written and published in the 1990s, the wardrobe is of that time.
Even the curtain call keeps to the theme of the show. The cast members are dispersed in the aisles, on the apron, and on stage. Some are carrying pictures or mementos of their relatives. When the Armed Forces service songs are played, veterans are encouraged to stand while their branch’s song is played.
As an audience member, the measure of success to me is exactly what I feel today, waking up still affected by the experience, and the stories of courage that I heard.
To the entire cast and crew of FCT’s world premiere production of Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation Speaks, an extended standing O!
The Greatest Generation Speaks plays through February 19, 2023, at Fauquier Community Theatre located at 4225 Aiken Drive, Warrenton, VA. Tickets ($18 adult, $16 senior and student) are available for purchase online, at the door, or by calling the box office at 540-349-8760.
COVID Safety: Fauquier Community Theatre is following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health. As such, we will not have any seating or distancing restrictions. Face coverings are optional. If you feel sick or are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone sick, please do not attend. The theater’s complete COVID Procedures are here.
The Greatest Generation Speaks
Book by Tom Brokaw
Adapted for Stage and Directed by Harry Kantrovich
Assistant Director: Drew Fleming
Produced by Don Richardson
Cast: James Constable, Stub Estey, Richard Fiske, Hugh Hill, Maureen Hamilton, Tony Killian, Robert Stockmaster, Walt Meyer, Tamara Peters, Amy Treat, Tammy Barboza, Jack Seeley, Sheryl Solow, Elizabeth Gordon, Dell Pendergrast, Dennis Byrne, Don Richardson, Stacie Duvall, Ginny McCardle, Joseph Bersack, Kirk Lambert, Carolyn Cosano Wong, Pat Jannell, Geoff Baskir, Edgar Johnson, Doug Barylski, Krista Poole, Ricardo Padilla
Creative Team: Stage Manager & Props: Pat Jannell, Light Design: Lisa Stewart, Sound Design: Walter Stewart, Make-up & Hair Design: Erin Briner, Set Design: Lisa Stewart, Set Decoration: Drew & Debbie Fleming, Set-Build: Doug Barylski, Lisa Stewart, Walter Stewart, Amy Treat, Jim Costable, Steve Wong, Tony Killian, Joe Bersack, Videographer: Leland Shook
Michael Gary Clendenin is a well-known community theater actor throughout the DMV. Michael recently moved to North Carolina where he hopes to involve himself with community theater in his new home.
Tom Brokaw is the author of seven bestsellers: The Greatest Generation, The Greatest Generation Speaks, An Album of Memories, Boom!, The Time of Our Lives, A Long Way from Home, and A Lucky Life Interrupted. A native of South Dakota, he graduated from the University of South Dakota, and began his journalism career in Omaha and Atlanta before joining NBC News in 1966. Brokaw was the White House correspondent for NBC News during Watergate, and from 1976 to 1981 he anchored Today on NBC. He was the sole anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw from 1983 to 2005. He continues to report for NBC News, producing long-form documentaries and providing expertise during breaking news events. Brokaw has won every major award in broadcast journalism, including two DuPonts, three Peabody Awards, and several Emmys, including one for lifetime achievement. In 2014, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He lives in New York and Montana.