An epic, rambunctious tale of civil war and personal revenge for a large, diverse cast of actor-musicians and singers. Grotesquely comic, haunting and savage, This Divided Earth is a frank and illuminating depiction of the casualties of ‘total’ war.

Synopsis

Fleeing from the burning of their town, a group of refugee women find themselves at the mercy of the enemy. But does the arrival of an idealistic new commander promise fresh hope or a final act of humiliation? An epic, rambunctious tale of civil war and personal revenge, This Divided Earth combines fact and fiction to explore a still controversial chapter in America’s history.

“To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.”

General William T. Sherman, Special Field Order 120, November 1864.

 

We come in peace, they said, to dig and sow,

we come to work the land in common,

to make the wasteland grow.

This earth divided, we will make whole,

so it can be a common treasury for all.

From The World Turned Upside Down, Leon Rosselson

 

Contains scenes of a sexual nature.

Playwright’s Note

I am an admirer of Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Ariel Dorfman’s Widows and felt it might make for an interesting process to take the basic premise of that play (refugee women demand from an army of occupation the truth behind the disappearance of their men) and transpose the location from Pinochet’s Chile to Civil War America.

The 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (in 2013) and recent high-profile Hollywood movies (Kushner again, with the screenplay for Lincoln) appear to have stimulated an interest in this period for a new generation. This Divided Earth aims to explore some of the issues arising from “the war between the states” in what I hope is an accessible and intimate manner.

Key sources drawn upon include Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering and Ric Burns’ documentary version of it, Death and the Civil War. 600,000 lives were lost through combat and disease – or six million, as an equivalent proportion of today’s US population. Gilpin and Burns examine how this staggering death toll “permanently altered the psyche of the American people … [as] contending with slaughter on an unprecedented scale posed challenges for which there were no ready answers.”

It was Northern women, in particular, who most effectively “improvised new solutions, new institutions, new ways” of tending the wounded; providing for veterans; and (aided greatly by freed slaves) recording, commemorating and burying the dead.

This Divided Earth focuses on the attempts of one such ‘Ladies’ Society’ to identify the unmarked graves of the fallen, deep in enemy territory. Such attempts, naturally, brought Northern women into conflict with their Southern counterparts, whose own losses were often more terrible still.

The Civil War also saw a considerable increase in the popularity of photography (from Matthew Brady’s remarkable battlefield record to the personal portraits prized by combatants and their families alike.) These images provided the template for our approach to the video projections integral to the design of the premiere production.

And the rousing, haunting, divisive ‘folk’ music of the time afforded our musical director, Andrew Friesner, the opportunity to produce the kind of choral arrangements and original score which have characterised our past collaborations. I would encourage the use of a similar score in any future staging of the play.

The Civil War led to the abolition of slavery, the assassination and virtual canonization of Abraham Lincoln, and a lingering resentment felt even today in much of the South. I must confess, however, that in This Divided Earth dispassionate historiography plays second fiddle to a study of the more picaresque consequences of war: the manifold increase in prostitution, venereal disease and opium addiction.

 

 

Production History

American Theatre Arts, Rose Theatre, Rose Bruford College, London, May 2012

 

CAST

Prostitutes
FIDELIA, Kaitlin Yrene
BEKAH, Katie Glaister
MORNA, Isobella Hubbard
SUZANNAH, their madam, Fenella Spillane

Southern Belles
WILLAMENA ROWNTREE, Helena Williams
ROBERTA MACAULEY, Lydia Kincaid
EMELINE DEVALMONT, Georgia Ringwood
GWENDOLIN STOCKBRIDGE, Roisin Brehony
CECILY KESSELMAN, Abigail Castleton

Soldiers
LIEUTENANT CLAY OGDEN, Conor Baum
SERGEANT-MAJOR RUFUS BIRCH, Lee Bainbridge
PRIVATE JOSEPH WARREN, Parys Jordon-Sango

A Delegation from the North
VIRGINIA UNDERHILL, the Lieutenant’s fiancée, Sarah Farrow
MATILDA JOHNSON, Lolade Rufai
JUSTINE BRAMWELL, Katie Spencer
URSULA STRAND, Nina Eriksdatter
HEDVIG STRAND, Ursula’s sister, Juliana Sara
REVEREND THOMAS WOODALE, George Whiffin

Others
PHAEDRA, a local woman, Sigourney Jeanpierre
TOM, a musician, Thomas Brennan

PRODUCTION TEAM
Directed by Steven Dykes
Designed by April Jacobs
Lighting Design by Charlie Hain
Video Design by Alex Griffiths & Jake Whittingham
Sound Design by Tord Brudevoll
Musical Direction, Arrangements & Composition Andrew Friesner

Gallery

Comments

This Divided Earth

  • Categories: Cast size 8 or more / Period / Set in the US
  • Cast: 15 women, 4 Men
  • Setting: South Carolina, Spring 1865
  • Running Time: 2hrs 30min
  • Characters:
  • Scripts:
  • Performance Rights: Rights Currently Available.
    Non-exclusive Student/Amateur/Unwaged Professional:
    £60/$100 per performance.
    Territory Exclusive Waged Professional:
    Royalty on application.
    N.B. All licences require one purchase of the authorised rehearsal script.

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