The March, E.L. Doctorow's Civil War Tale, Opens April 15 in Steppenwolf World Premiere

By Kenneth Jones
15 Apr 2012

Ian Barford and Phillip James Brannon
Ian Barford and Phillip James Brannon
Photo by Michael Brosilow

Tony Award-winning director-adapter Frank Galati's The March, based on the Civil War-set novel by E.L. Doctorow, opens in its world premiere by Steppenwolf Theatre Company on April 15 following previews from April 5. Three-time Tony Award nominee Harry Groener stars as William Tecumseh Sherman in the Chicago staging that continues to June 10.

Galati famously crafted a stage version of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" for Steppenwolf. Its 1990 Broadway engagement earned the artist two Tony Awards — for Direction of a Play and Best Play. Galati had an earlier Broadway brush with Doctorow, directing the musical adaptation of his novel "Ragtime."

The March plays Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theatre at 1650 N. Halsted St.

The company feaures Steppenwolf ensemble members Alana Arenas, Ian Barford, K. Todd Freeman, Martha Lavey, Mariann Mayberry, James Vincent Meredith and Alan Wilder with Will Allan, Phillip James Brannon, Cliff Chamberlain, Patrick Clear, Carrie Coon, Alex Goldklang, Harry Groener, Stephen Louis Grush, Anthony Kayer, Michael Mahler, Shannon Matesky, Luce Metrius, Andy Monson, John Mossman, Alex Newkirk, Alex Ring, Joe Sinopoli, Philip R. Smith, Alex Stage and L.J. Slavin.



Here's how The March is billed by the Tony Award-honored Steppenwolf: "General William Tecumseh Sherman, Uncle Billy to his men, marches 62,000 Union soldiers through lush Georgia countryside. Bearing along both black and white refugees, the march destroys everything in its path, turning home into exile and exile into home. Its epic force forever changes the lives of those caught up in its sweep: a liberated slave, a sheltered daughter of a Southern judge, a pair of Confederate deserters and Uncle Billy himself. The March is a story of momentous upheaval and the limits of courage and love."

Doctorow was a Pulitzer finalist for both "The March" and "Billy Bathgate." 

"About six years ago, Frank called me and said that he was intrigued by Doctorow's novel and that he had begun adapting it," Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey said in production notes. "Like 'Ragtime,' 'The March' is a skillful weaving of history and imagination: Doctorow imagines himself into a crucial moment in American history and populates the world of known historical personages with a rich cast of characters who might go unrecorded in the official narrative, but who profoundly shape the American story. Frank has captured that tapestry with a keen eye toward how to bring those shifting, contrary forces to the stage."

The March was co-commissioned by Steppenwolf and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, through the project called "American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle." The "Revolutions" project is OSF's commitment to commission 37 new plays "sprung from a moment of change, inspiration or conflict in United States history." The number 37 was chosen to match the canon of Shakespeare's work; The March is among the first ten of the plays commissioned.

"We face some of the same issues now that the country faced prior to the Civil War, particularly in the area of state's rights and the role of the federal government," Galati said in a statement. "What I cling to in this contemporary world that we inhabit is the notion that history is literature, and that, to a certain extent, literature is history. The historical record is a narrative. And the fictional evocation of the past by a novelist like E.L. Doctorow is also an effort to seek the truth. I think it's through the fictional characters that Doctorow is able to reach into our own hearts and connect us to the events of the past. These fictional characters live a kind of italicized present; they stand out from the background of historical event."

Read more about the career of director/adaptor Frank Galati in the Playbill Vault.

The production team for The March includes James Schuette (scenic design), Virgil Johnson (costume design), James F. Ingalls (lighting design), Josh Schmidt (sound design and original music), Erica Daniels (casting), Malcolm Ewen (stage manager) and Christine D. Freeburg (assistant stage manager).

For more information, visit www.steppenwolf.org.