The set is empty and there’s only one prop. The only costume change the actor undergoes is his shirt. But with Stephen Lang onstage, that is all that is needed. This extremely skilled and versatile actor performs a compelling tribute to veterans of war in the production Beyond Glory, currently playing at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre.
Based on book by Larry Smith, Beyond Glory tells the stories of eight men who received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some are from World War II, some from Korea, some from Vietnam. They have different ages, races and backgrounds, and they tell their stories very differently as well. Some are proud of what they did, some are nonchalant, some are almost ashamed.
Written and performed by Stephen Lang, the show consists simply of the men telling their stories. They are distinguished from each other by his changing his shirt and the characteristics that he gives them – voices, accents and mannerisms change drastically with each man, and Lang accomplishes the transformations quickly and completely. He goes from stoic to angry, matter of fact to emotional, from proud to nonchalant in a matter of seconds.
In a time of a deeply divided country, with images and stories of wars haunting the nightly news, this show manages to remain apolitical. It does not go into the stories behind the wars, nor does it go into the politics of the wars. It does go into the tales of racism experienced by some of the men serving in the African-America regiment, highlighting the injustice of them, but those are also framed in the personal way, told through the eyes of the individual who experienced them.
In eight extraordinary performances, Lang gives each of these men depth and character in an extremely brief amount of time. His skills as a performer are utilized and enhanced at times by the use of multimedia. Recorded voiceovers describe the men’s accomplishments in war in cold, sterile tones, which the men often interrupt or cut short in order to tell their own stories. Occasionally, images are projected behind the men, but they are used sparingly so to not distract from Lang’s performance.
One of the men lost his arm in battle and was worried about how he could smoke a cigarette. One of the men said he was just doing his job. One spent seven years as a prisoner of war and was tortured repeatedly. The stories are not easy to watch or to listen to, but they are necessary. These men’s words and stories raise questions such as the definition of success in war, what bravery actually is and what merits recognition. The relevancy and the poignancy of the play cannot be ignored, but Lang does not cause the show to be overbearing. Instead, he simply tells the men’s stories the way they were intended – to honor them.
Spanning 80 minutes with no intermission the show is brief, tasteful and poignant. It does what it needs to do – just like these men did.