An Evening with Robert E. Lee
An Evening with Ulysses S. Grant
Written and performed by “Country Joe” Rosier
Presented by The Greater Orlando Civil War Round Table
October 26 and 27, 2012
Orlando Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL
Technically these are two separate tickets, but the stories are interleaved and a dual review helps with the “Compare and Contrast” dictum from English Class. I’ll start by observing these shows about the Civil War (a.k.a. The War of Northern Aggression) bring out a much different crowd than most shows at the Shakes. Hoop skirts and dashing uniforms with period authentic button color were present and the guy running the cigar box office wasn’t familiar with the term “will call”. But despite these minor irregularities, this was an audience that was rapt and attentive and could ask mind numbingly detailed questing during the talk back.
We begin with Robert E. Lee, his parents hung out with George Washington and he was one of the very few to depart West Point with zero demerits. Lee made a career as an engineer, which meant he built forts and bridges and earth works. In the Mexican American war he showed promise, and when the civil war broke out, he was torn but ultimate preferred loyalty to Virginia over loyalty to the larger concept of a United States. He fought with honor and poor logistics, hunger was a bigger challenge than the sometimes incompetent Unions forces he faced, although he appears to have botched a few critical military opportunities on his own. Ultimalty he was regarded as a loyal and worthy opponent, and resumed some friendships with opposing officers after the surrender.
The next evening we meet U.S. Grant, a man who struggled with bad business sense and alcoholism. He, too graduated West Point, fought in Mexico, and while his battle sense was better, he also knew how to move men and supplies thought the mud and desert, and this overcame any other deficiency in his character. He also believed in the union, and the only way to impress the Southerners was to bring the war to them, and that meant total war. The after math of that decision is still with us on many levels, he may have won but it was sullen victory.
Rosier looks enough like most 19th century portraiture to pass for most any Civil War figure shorter than Lincoln, and his well researched portrayals are riveting. He does waver a bit when working Lee’s northern Virginia accent, but his dramatic pauses make his performance feel like an improvised speech. He has maps on stage; they could have been used more effectively when describing troop movements and the strategic value of various battles. Both Lee and Grant are convincing and they state their positions and reaction very succinctly, although there seems a weird fascination with both Lee’s and Grant’s horses. Both sessions felt correct in length although the post presentation Q&A needs to offer an escape opportunity for those who don’t want to discuss how Grant got his dry cleaning done or why Lee did or didn’t attack an opposing army. What I found most informative was the role of the Mexican American War in setting up the Civil War, and how human and vulnerable these two soldiers were.