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Theater

Prime Stage Theatre promises immersive experience during 'All Quiet on the Western Front'

| Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Connor McNelis (from left), Corwin Stoddard and Daniel Keitel star in Prime Stage Theatre’s 21st season opener, the U.S. premiere of Robin Kingsland’s stage adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 World War I novel, 'All Quiet On the Western Front”
Laura Slovesko
Connor McNelis (from left), Corwin Stoddard and Daniel Keitel star in Prime Stage Theatre’s 21st season opener, the U.S. premiere of Robin Kingsland’s stage adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 World War I novel, 'All Quiet On the Western Front”

Prime Stage Theatre will open its season with the U.S. premiere of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the stage adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's 1929 World War I novel.

The production will feature theatrical enhancements such as live sound effects instead of recorded audio, lighting and projection techniques and creative staging designed to bring the audience right to the front lines, heightening their experience.

“There are some spectacular effects being achieved,” says actor Connor McNelis of McCandless, who portrays the central character, Paul Bäumer, in the show. “The way we are re-creating the scenes in the trench or at the front, being bombarded by shelling, is a treat for the senses, visual and audible. This is theater at its best.”

To make the production as authentic as possible, Prime Stage has been working closely with Michael Kraus, curator and historian at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. A noted military consultant to Hollywood films, Kraus has deep knowledge of World War I, says Wayne Brinda, Prime Stage's co-founder and artistic producing director.

Kraus will speak at a private reception at 1 p.m. Nov. 12 at the New Hazlett Theatre before the show's final matinee. His talk will focus on World War I and Pittsburgh's connections to “the war to end all wars.” Those attending the show may purchase a package that includes the reception and performance.

The theater company also will pay tribute to Pittsburgh area veterans, current military and their family members during the show's run by having honor guards during certain performances and asking those in the region to share their own stories and photos at pghconnectionswwi.com.

Brinda says the initiative will help to support Prime Stage's objective to connect history and literature by detailing many of Pittsburgh's connections to World War I.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is being directed by Scott Calhoon of Marshall-Shadeland, who directed Prime Stage's production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” last season and has directed shows for the Theatre Factory and Front Porch Theatricals.

He has cast eight actors as soldiers, some of whom play multiple roles, and is working with set designer Johnmichael Bohach and sound designer Angela Baughman to tell the story of “young German men, still in their teens, who immediately went from the comfort of high school to grueling conditions on the battlefield.”

Calhoon says he hopes to tell the story in a universal way that shows that all soldiers — regardless of the war or which side they are on — have similar concerns and feelings “and have more in common with each other than what the powers that be — the men who start the wars — wish to admit.”

McNelis' character is one of the young soldiers who, with his comrades, endure the dangerous conditions of trench warfare.

“I would hope audiences leave with history a little more prevalent in their minds, and I hope they ask one another questions,” McNelis says. “So much is happening in the world, and we have our own concerns in our personal lives, we may neglect to remember the hardships of generations before us.”

Prime Stage Theatre's 21st season also will feature:

• March 9-18, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou, adapted for the stage by Myra Platt and Malika Oyetimein for Book-it Repertory Theatre. Directed by Monteze Freeland.

• May 4-13, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman. Directed by Richard Keitel.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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