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Civil War Letters in Staged ASU Production

April 08, 2013

A dramatic reading of original period correspondence, titled “Beloved Companion,” will be staged Tuesday and Wednesday, April 16-17, as the final program for the 2012-13 academic year in Angelo State University’s Civil War Lecture Series.

Subtitled “The Civil War Letters of James and Frances Catherine Wood,” the production will feature student actors interpreting the actual correspondence between a private in the 199th Pennsylvania Volunteers and his farm wife in Muhlenburg, Pa., during the last nine months of the Civil War in Virginia.

The two performances are open free to the public and scheduled at 7 p.m. each day in the University Auditorium in the Mayer Administration Building on the ASU campus.  The dramatic reading was made possible by financial support from the University Center Program Council (UCPC) and the Office of the ASU President.  “Beloved Companion” is the first original stage production funded through UCPC.

“Beloved Companion” is based on the original Civil War letters between the great-great grandparents of Harriet Lewis, a member of ASU’s physical therapy faculty.  She and her husband transcribed the letters and then developed an abridged version that could be read as a dialogue between husband and wife.

imageStudent actors Adam Rich, a junior theatre major and music minor from Hilton Head, S.C., and Blair Hitch, a junior communication major and theatre minor from Denton, will play the roles of James and Frances Wood.  Lewis will serve as the narrator.  The production is being directed by Dr. Bill Doll, director of University Theatre.

Dr. Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai, a Civil War scholar on the ASU history faculty and coordinator for the 2012-13 lecture series, said, “We sometimes forget that the men and women of the Civil War generation had the same emotions as we do.  They felt fear and love and hatred and anger like us.  ‘Beloved Companion’ turns the powerful letters of one Pennsylvanian family into a dramatic reading, which will capture the essence of loyalty, love and sacrifice during the final days of the Civil War.”

During the final nine months of the Civil War, Wood was stationed at Petersburg and then accompanied the Union Army as it chased the Army of Northern Virginia and later surrounded Robert E. Lee’s troops at Appomattox, where the Confederate general surrendered.  Meanwhile, Wood’s wife was at home trying to care for their three young daughters and keep the farm going during a harsh Pennsylvania winter.

As director of the staged and costumed reading, Doll said he was interested in the dramatic potential of the letters and the backstory of how the Lewises happened upon them among the effects of Harriet’s late parents.  Even though the letters are almost 150 years old, Doll said they have contemporary application.

“My hope is that as an audience we can find some understanding of James and Frances Wood’s struggle, feel with them and gain some understanding of the horrors of war, as well as the daily challenges military families face everywhere through time, as well as our own here and now.”

A musical prelude of songs from the Civil War era will begin 30 minutes prior to the actual performance.  Period photographs will be projected on a large screen to provide a backdrop for the dramatic presentation.

In addition to Doll as director, production credits include Harriet and Preston Lewis as compilers and editors, and Preston Lewis as producer.

Cast credits are Adam Rich as James Wood, Blair Hitch as Frances Wood, and Harriet Lewis as narrator.

Production staff are Matt Smith, stage manager, technical director, lighting designer and sound operator; Eldra Sanford, costumer; Harriet Lewis, narrator costume; Leonor Constancio and Preston Lewis, projections design; Preston Lewis and Harriet Lewis, sound design; Cassandra Trautman, wardrobe manager and light board operator; Ryder Cornelison, projectionist; Leonor Constancio, program and poster designer; and Dr. Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai and Dr. Kenneth J. Heineman, historical consultants.

Musical credits are Allison Brackin, violin soloist, and Dr. John E. Irish and Becky Brackin, musical consultants.

Individuals interested in more information on the Civil War series can e-mail the ASU History Department at civilwar150@angelo.edu.

The Civil War series is jointly sponsored by multiple ASU departments, including the History Department, Center for Security Studies, West Texas Collection, Multicultural Center and Air Force ROTC, as well as Fort Concho and the Concho Valley Civil War Roundtable, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of that watershed event in American history.

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civilwar150@angelo.edu

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