I enter the New Ohio Theatre and ZAP! I am in the world of In Fields Where They Lay. The set is an arrangement of dusty soldier's barracks. I can smell the dry ice from where I sit in the front row. It's 1914, the First World War: The German and the British troops have been fighting non-stop for longer than they'd care to remember, resulting in many casualties. The majority of them are tired, sick, and have loved ones waiting for them at home. Needless to say, the overall morale is rather low.
The British soldiers march on stage in unison, singing "The Bells of Hell" while continuing to march in place for the entirety of the song.
Two characters in particular break my heart with their back-stories.
One is Private Jones, an endlessly sweet boy that gets affectionately teased by the other privates. I find out that despite what he's filled out on his forms, he is only 16 years old and has lied about his age so he can help his mother, a struggling cook for a wealthy family, with the money given to him for registration. Once I know how old he really is, my entire view of him changes and I am overcome with a desire to protect him. Although the other privates have more years on them than Private Jones, they are no less the sons of women who love them. And that goes for the German soldiers as well. At the end of the day, they are all people.
The other is Private Osbourne, a Jamaican who uses his profound knowledge and intelligence as a weapon. From the beginning, Private Osbourne is discriminated against for the color of his skin despite the fact that he is fighting on the same side as everybody else. He gives a chilling speech to Private Jones about how no matter how old he gets, he will always be a "boy" in the eyes of others, and that when the war gets recorded in the history books, his service will cease to exist due to his ethnicity. As he speaks, the little hairs on my arms stand up.
All is quiet in the British trench until Christmas Eve, when German soldiers unexpectedly call out "Merry Christmas!" to the very people they have named their enemies. I sit very still in my seat. It has to be a trap! They must be seconds away from raiding the trench and murdering everybody inside. But then they start singing Christmas carols in German, encouraging the British soldiers to join in. From the tones of their voices, they seem simply drunk on life and appear to be in festive moods. The British are initially stunned and doubt the Germans' intentions. However, it doesn't take long for them to vocalize with the Germans, both groups singing the same carols but in their own native languages, creating music infinitely more pleasant than the sounds of echoing gunfire.
On Christmas day, the troops take it a step further, imposing their own cease-fire in honor of the holidays, playing soccer, exchanging gifts, and even taking the opportunity to give their dead a proper burial. I shake my head in amazement, having some trouble believing that this really happened, even though I know it did.
In history, this time would go down as the Christmas Truce of 1914. I am no expert on the events of WWI, but for me In Fields Where They Lay celebrates the war's most magical moment and the unshakable nature of humanity, our one great connection.