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Theatre Review (LA): Robert E. Lee: Shades of Gray by Tom Dugan at Theatre Forty

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Ever since I saw the remarkable Civil War series by Ken Burns on PBS I have had a new appreciation of the whole history of the Civil War period. I had a college roommate who was from Athens, Georgia and majored in Southern history so I was influenced early on by the variable history of the war as seen through Southern eyes. One historical figure who intrigued me was Robert E. Lee, the Commander of the Southern Army.

By all rights Lee should have been a Northern general; he didn’t believe in slavery as an institution and in fact had served in the US Army before the secession of the Southern states. He chose to stay with his state (Virginia) as Commander, first of the state forces and eventually of the entire Confederate Army. He has always remained an iconic military figure, even in the North, for his abilities as a tactician and military leader.

Tom Dugan is a wonderful actor who most recently made his mark as Simon Wiesenthal in his one-man show Nazi Hunter: Simon Wiesenthal for which he was awarded an Ovation Award. He has returned with his well researched and brilliantly acted play about Robert E. Lee called Robert E. Lee: Shades of Gray. We find Lee at Appomattox waiting to surrender. While he waits Lee (Dugan) goes over his history in the war and his part in it including his attitudes, his campaigns, and his honorable involvement. We are introduced to specifics of his wins as well as his failures (his two attempts to take Washington D.C.).

I found myself actually caring for this hero, as he must resign himself to defeat. Dugan has created a character of many levels or “shades of gray” including his frustration with both sides. This is a fascinating study of a fascinating man, well performed by Dugan using his rich voice and actor’s intelligence. Robert E. Lee: Shades of Gray is being performed on July 1-3 and will return in August at Theatre Forty.

Photo by Sean McNamara

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