War drama relevant as today's news

Apollo Civic Theatre presents 'The Andersonville Trial'

Apollo Civic Theatre presents 'The Andersonville Trial'

April 10, 2008|By KATHRYN YOUNG / Special To The Herald-Mail

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A year ago, when theater director and history buff Tami McDonald scheduled "The Andersonville Trial" for The Apollo Civic Theatre, she counted on presenting an intense courtroom drama involving individuals' consciences grappling with conflicting moral demands.

She loved the play's potent combination - history (in this case, related to the Civil War), theater and men.

"It's the three things I love most," McDonald says.

Written by Saul Levitt in 1959, "The Andersonville Trial" is based on the real-life trial of Capt. Henry Wirz, commander of the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Ga., during the Civil War. The prison, built to hold only 10,000 Union prisoners of war, held almost 45,000 prisoners during the Civil War. Almost a third died because of conditions. Wirz is prosecuted, though he claims the tragedy was caused by his superiors' orders.

After getting a green light to produce "The Andersonville Trial," McDonald found many eager male actors willing to jump on board. "These are choice roles," McDonald says.


Rick Herlinger plays Wirz, Jerry Tracy plays prosecuting attorney Lt. Col. N. P. Chipman and Ross Hudson plays Otis Baker, Wirz's defense attorney.

In preparation for their roles, the actors had to do some historical research. McDonald says she enjoyed hearing about the knowledge each actor developed about his character.

Hudson, who has done a dozen productions at the Apollo, says Otis Baker was one of the few men to step out from the crowd and take part in the trial. He disappeared from the historical record afterward. Hudson says Baker "makes an individual think between right and wrong."

Similarly, Tracy sees a specific significance in his character through reading Chipman's published account of the trial from the early 1900s. Chipman, who early in the play has a black and white view of the world, is forced to re-evaluate his conclusions.

"Characters who change are the most interesting characters," Tracy says.

Tracy also says the play is timely, with audiences aware of media accounts of abuses by American military personnel in Iraq.

Wirz was the only person tried and executed for war crimes after the Civil War.

Herlinger says what really helps him get into character is watching Hudson and Tracy and the other actors.

"We [the actors] start bouncing off each other," Herlinger says.

McDonald gauges the success of her plays by whether her actors are excited to have others come see the play.

"I want them to have a product they'd be proud of," said McDonald. "And so far, we always have that."

If you go ...

WHAT: "The Andersonville Trial"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays, April 11 and 18, Saturdays, April 12 and 19; and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, April 13 and 20.

WHERE: The Apollo Civic Theatre, 128 E. Martin St., Martinsburg, W.Va.

COST: Tickets cost $15 for Friday and Saturday shows; $12 for Sunday shows; and $7 for students at all shows.

MORE: For tickets, call 304-263-6766 or go to

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