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Delve beyond the battle

Original 'Antietam Anthologies' explores aftermath of bloody day

September 19, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Playwright Mark Brugh, right, discusses a scene with actor Ralph Mauriello. Mauriello is cast as a Southern sympathizer in "Antietam Anthologies: 1862."
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Mark P. Brugh's original play "Antietam Anthologies: 1862" examines the messy work - and messy politics - of identifying, relocating and re-interring the bodies of Confederate soldiers six years after the Battle of Antietam.

"I wanted people to know the names of the people from Sharpsburg who did heroic acts of bravery and exhibited valor in the wake of adversity," said Brugh, as actors arrived for a recent Wednesday night rehearsal.

"Antietam Anthologies" premieres Friday night and continues through Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Academy Theatre Banquet & Conference Center in downtown Hagerstown. The Potomac Playmakers are hosting the production.

Brugh didn't have to look hard to find conflict.

Historians consider the Battle of Antietam to be the bloodiest single day of battle in American history - this most people know, Brugh said. "Antietam Anthologies" attempts to delve into the less familiar.

The play's plot swirls around the work of Aaron Good, the man hired to ID and re-inter the bodies of rebel soldiers, some of who were still in plain view years after the battle.

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"I look at Aaron as buying into Lincoln's philosophy that once the Civil War was over, it was over," said actor Barry Harbaugh, who has the role of Aaron Good. That meant everyone - even Confederates and Southern sympathizers - are due equal treatment.

Even the dead.

Still, the idea of burying the bodies of Southern rebels next to federal soldiers didn't sit well with postbellum politicians.

In the play, Good calls together a town meeting at the request of a Hagerstown silversmith Thomas Boullt, who is a trustee of the Antietam National Cemetery. Boullt is expected to deliver some news about what's going to become of the bodies. In the meantime, the townspeople who've arrived for the meeting begin sharing their stories monologue style as though the audience were part of the meeting.

"It's hard to find a lot of information about Boullt," said John Tiedemann, the actor from Fairfield, Pa., who has the role.

Actors said the challenge they faced was adding dimension to real-life characters, to make them theatrically relatable and not a collection of historical re-enactments.

Andre Brown, 28, of Martinsburg, W.Va., has the role of an ex-slave, Hilary Watson.

"I tried to learn who Hilary Watson was," Brown said, adding that he didn't have a whole lot of information about the ex-slave. He said he relied on historical accounts provided by Brugh and other accounts about the lives of slaves and ex-slaves in the region.

Brugh said he relied on Clifton Johnson's book "Battlefield Adventures," the published accounts of Johnson's 1910 interviews with Sharpsburg-area residents about their Civil War experiences. He also relied on work by Kathleen Ernst and Steven R. Stotelmyer, as well as consulting with local historians.

Actor Ralph Mauriello, who has the role of Southern sympathizer Jacob McGraw, said authenticity was important to him.

The former radio personality and occasional TV voice-over man had to shed his Brooklyn accent and pick up a slow Southern drawl. Mauriello said he also sought to add emotional depth and complexity to McGraw's character.

"The things he saw, that he learned, really took him," said Mauriello, 52, of Hagerstown. "He understood what the North was doing and felt the country would have been better off as one nation, anyway."

In contrast, Julia Brugh - the playwright's wife - has the role of Theresa Kretzer, a well-known woman from Sharpsburg who was a staunch Unionist.

"I'm pretty sure she's wasn't as rude, abrasive or confrontational as my character is," Julia Brugh said. "I wanted to make it really in-your-face."

While she's probably more assertive than the real-life Theresa Kretzer, Julia Brugh said sees her dramatic treatment of Theresa Kretzer as a tribute.

"I'd kind of like to celebrate that," she said.

If you go...



WHAT: "Antietam Anthologies: 1862," an original play by Mark P. Brugh, presented by the Potomac Playmakers.

WHEN: Opening night, Friday, Sept. 24. Show begins at 8 p.m. Shows continue 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26.

WHERE: Academy Theatre Banquet & Conference Center, 58 E. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown.

COST: $10, general admission.

MORE: Go to http://www.potomacplaymakers.com

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