By ELAINA WILSON
UC Merced students gave the community a refreshing yet eye-opening performance this past weekend by presenting the play “If All Heaven Were Paper,” written by best-selling author and playwright Andrew Carroll.
The show brought to light astonishing and very moving details of Carroll’s journey to more than 40 countries in search of the most inspiring wartime letters in history.
The one-act performance was produced by UC Merced’s Global Arts and Studies Program and was directed by UC Merced Continuing Lecturer Jenni Samuelson. It featured 15 undergraduate students enrolled in Samuelson’s course, “Advanced Performative Storytelling.”
The result on stage was a beautiful tribute paying tribute to real-life military men and women, and their loved ones back home. The performance revealed the impact and importance of preserving personal stories from the Revolutionary War to the war in Afghanistan. These wartime letters give voice to the words of servicemen and women in a way that humanizes them in the midst of violent conflict and wartime adversity.
The cast put on “a phenomenal show,” according to Carroll himself, as the author was in Merced over the weekend to attend the event held at the Multicultural Arts Center in downtown Merced on Friday. evening and Sunday afternoon.
Carroll – the author of “War Letters” and “Behind the Lines” – said he was delighted to see the play performed by college students. He said they helped bring the story to life in a way that is relatable and human-centered. Carroll also gave huge credits to director Jenni Samuelson.
The staging was well done as the theater seemed quite perfect for the intimate and detailed readings of these letters by the actors. The young performers also created a sense of emotional brutality with each letter while also realizing the depth and impact of them. The show even had a surprising, but well-received twist that offered a bit of humor in the opening moments. The audience also got to laugh, which was refreshing and unexpected. The actors performed with what felt like genuine passion as each read aloud the unique letters of these soldiers. They depicted moments of fear, strength, hope, terror and, above all, the admiration of those who put their feelings on paper. There were letters written from battlefields with bombs exploding nearby and bullets flying past.
Although a few of the UC students may have had slight tremors at first, for the most part they seemed quite natural and left the audience with a clear understanding of the message that Mr. Carroll wanted to convey: there can be hope in the midst of struggle. Soldiers and their loved ones back home are not alone – before, during and after serving in the military. Even in the midst of battle, there is also camaraderie, resilience to overcome difficulties, and even circumstances where one can turn enemies into “enemies”.
It was evident that the students put their hearts into this performance, and under Samuelson’s great leadership, they brought honor to the letter writers and to all veterans. You could feel the dedication of the actors as the letters were read and the story was told; the audience felt the authenticity of every word.
A well-timed performance, in the run-up to Memorial Day, it was a stark reminder of the many challenges our country has endured and persevered. It suggests that we take something positive from the past and make history not just a lesson in a book, but a lesson in which to motivate ourselves for the future.
As the voice of a young Polish boy read aloud in his description of the horror, fear and tragedy of war: “If all the skies were paper, if the seas of the world were an inkwell, I could not describe my suffering.
The performance gave a thoughtful portrayal to the audience and a glimpse into the true beauty of theatre. The readings likely struck a chord with the show’s many viewers. From showing a sense of humor in the dire circumstances of war, to the detailed emotions of the front lines, the cast shone in the spotlight while demonstrating that these letters were written by real people. Although strong, resilient and trained in combat, the play teaches us that these soldiers are only human, and that they too face everyday life and all its ups and downs, regardless of the period in which they have served or will serve.
Above all, the piece is a brilliant reminder of what memories are made of. Mr. Carroll’s work has left audiences with an appreciation for life and a reminder not to get too caught up in life that you don’t stop to figure it all out.
The show likely inspired many others to seek out their own family war letters with a sense of curiosity about their ancestral past. There is a sense of wonder and awe knowing that the messages left behind will bring those voices to life and allow us to honor what is not just part of the story, but our story, the connection to our roots and our family heritage. which can continue long after we are gone.
If you have any war letters you would like to share, especially if you or a loved one served in Iraq or Afghanistan, please contact: warletters.us