Arts and Entertainment

'Lilies on the Land'; spotlight falls on unsung heroes of WWII

From left; Joy Van Camp, Patti Bair and Pat Rishel, three of the four stars of
From left; Joy Van Camp, Patti Bair and Pat Rishel, three of the four stars of 'Lilies of the Land,' join in one of the show's nearly half-dozen theatrical songs. (not pictured; Cori Morrell).
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

As World War II waged across the landscape of Europe, a different but equally important campaign was being fought back in the fields and countryside of Great Britain.

Made up mostly of young women, the Women’s Land Army struggled to keep the nation fed while the majority of its men were off at war. It wasn’t easy, as the so-called “Forgotten Army” endured endless hours of backbreaking work and spartan hardships, contending at the same time with the pressures of war, in order to complete its mission.

Doesn’t sound familiar? Well, it is known as the “forgotten army,” after all. Still, the depth of this under-appreciated story will spring to life as San Juan Community Theatre presents “Lilies on the Land,” a dramatic and historical portrait of that overlooked and forgotten army.Group shot

The two-week run of performances, seven shows in all, also marks the directorial debut on the theatre main stage for veteran actor/director Julie Laidlaw (On Book! Readers Theatre, Playwrights Festival).

“There was something about the energy required by these women to do their part for the war that struck me as important and moving,” Laidlaw said. “It wasn’t just Great Britain, there were land armies in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia too.”

Based on some 150 letters and interviews with original “land girls,” the play traces the personal journey of four members of the Women’s Land corps, played by stalwart thespians Patti Bair, Cori Morrell, Pat Rishel and Joy Van Camp. Part memoir, part musical, part period piece, the performance features WWII-era costumes and special effects, and, with nine different songs, including Silent Night, in German, Italian and English, showcases the vocal talents of its veteran cast.

“I think it’s kind of a neat story to tell,” Bair said. “It’s like ‘Rosie the Riveter’ goes to the farm. And were singing nine songs, all of them a cappella.”

Like the land army itself, Laidlaw and crew face challenges of their own in bringing the performance to the stage. Originally created in 2001 by “Lions part”, a group of British like-minded performers, the play itself has been staged relatively few times and it features evenly-traded monologues by the four main characters that woven together lay the track that moves the narrative along.

But like the women of the Forgotten Army, it’s a safe bet that director, cast and crew will rise to the challenge and deliver a winning performance.

The Business Partner for Lilies on the Land is Earthbox Inn & Spa.

Performances: Feb. 28 & March 1, 7:30 p.m.; March 2, 2 p.m. matinee. March 6—March 8; 7:30 p.m.; March 9, 2 p.m. matinee. Bargain Night, Thursday, March 8.

Tickets: $19 adults, $10 student reserved, $5 student RUSH, at the door.

For more information or to purchase tickets online: www.sjctheatre.org

 

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