This London import is so well-preserved it could easily be on view at the American Museum of Natural History, rather than Broadway. But there are considerable signs of life in this revival of R.C. Sherriff's long hard look at survival in the trenches of France in the Great War, which has reappeared in New York for the first time since the Depression era. Sheriff's dialogue may at times be antique, but what a wonderfully well-observed piece of journalism this is, drawn from his own experiences as a captain in England's 9th East Surrey Regiment from 1915-1918. If you ever wanted to know the proper way to wear a helmet into battle, why pepper was so prized a commodity at the trench dinner table , or how to race earwigs for sport during the down time between engagements, look no further.
But this production, under David Grindley's taut direction is more than just a matter of getting the details right. To use a word from Sherriff's vernacular, the mostly American cast is absolutely "topping," playing characters who would later become cliche in other works with freshness and authority-particularly affecting are Boyd Gaines' level-headed lieutenant, Jefferson Mays' comically oppressed cook , John Ahlin's Falstaff -figured second lieutenant, and Stark Sands' raw recruit, whose education in life in the trenches is ours as well. In the role of the haunted, hard -drinking captain, Britain's Hugh Dancy wears well the army boots previously occupied by Laurence Olivier and Colin Clive in James Whale's stage and screen versions. The design is first-rate (particularly Gregory Clarke's awesome audio, which carefully separates the sound of each type of bomb falling) and builds to a shattering curtain call, the most devastating since the recent Cabaret. Journey's End was not intended to be anti-war by its author, but its welcome return in our conflict- wracked age is no coincidence either.