John Carl Haas’ “The Worst Choice,” premieres on Friday, February 12, in Church Hill Theater’s inaugural COVID-19 SAFE Zoom production. The performances include a Saturday evening performance and a Sunday matinee.
The production stars Robert Thompson as William Tecumseh Sherman and Will Robinson as Ethan Allen Hitchcock. The play is produced and directed by Shelagh Grasso with the help of Stage Manager Michelle Christopher.
“The Worst Choice” considers what is right or at least acceptable in war time.
The play is a fictional dialogue between the war hero, Sherman, and his military mentor, Hitchcock and is set in a Washington hotel room in September 1865.
Democrat Andrew Johnson from Tennessee is now President and wants to sooth the bristling of Southern Democrats returning to Congress.
Sherman is facing a court martial for exceeding his orders in his March to the Sea campaign that destroyed the industrial heart of the Confederacy in Atlanta, wiped out the supply line, and burned the South Carolina capital at Columbia before Sherman reached the Sea at Charleston, where the city surrendered and was spared.
Sherman seeks the counsel of his mentor, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, to assist in his defense.
Haas is a scholar, educator and playwright. An associate professor of history at Chesapeake College, Haas has studied Sherman and Hitchcock during his academic career.
The two military figures represent the philosophical dichotomy in the shift from 19th century rules of war where combatants were the only legitimate targets to the modern total war approach.
Sherman’s March to the Sea was notorious for its path of destruction but credited with helping to end the war.
“Sherman is one of the most notable figures to come out of the civil war,” Haas said in an interview with the Kent Pilot. “He introduced some new approaches to warfare that really reflects what comes later on in the 20th Century with the Total War approach.”
“Sherman believed by keeping civilians and the economy off limits, the war would extend indefinitely,” Hass explained. “He believed there was an ethical call to end the war quickly.”
“Southerners never forgot what took place in the March to the Sea and beyond, but Sherman and his army where heroes in the view of the Northern public.”
“Hitchcock was grandson of revolutionary war hero Ethan Allen and an early graduate of West Point shortly after it opened,” Haas continued. “Hitchcock was notable in that although he served in Mexico and other campaigns he was very outspoken about wrongs that were committed on the part of the American government and American military. He spoke out against his commanding officers in some cases at great risks to his career. “
“He was principled and cared deeply about doing right.”
“I found them an Interesting pairing. “
While readers can likely envision this production on the Church Hill stage set in General Hitchcock’s hotel room in Washington City. With Zoom, actors are remote.
When asked about the challenges of Zoom, Haas remarked, “We need to help to convey to the audience that we want them to forget about Zoom. We want them to focus on what the actors are saying and the emotions they are conveying. The ideas they are struggling with.”
“The Worst Choice is designed to be a play to make our audience see the actors struggling with these concepts.”
One major benefit to Zoom: “We are able to reach people who can’t come to the theatre now.”
The Church Hill Theatre stage has been dark during the nearly yearlong COVID shutdown.
The Church Hill Theatre production will air via Zoom on Friday and, February 12 and 13, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 14, at 2 p.m. Tickets for the Zoom connection are $20.00 (discounts for students and members) and are available by visiting the Church Hill Theatre website.