'Bennington's Great War' looks at town and World War I

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BENNINGTON — Imagine being an 18-year-old Benningtonian who has never traveled farther than Albany, New York. After completing basic combat training, you're put on a ship to Europe.

"Then you find yourself, within a short time, in a trench in France for weeks and maybe months," said Eric Peterson, producing artistic director at Oldcastle Theatre Company.

This series of events did not happen to Peterson. At that age, the Bennington native went off to college, where "nobody shot at me," he said.

Peterson nonetheless manages to conjure up the real-life, historical scenario in his new documentary play, "Bennington's Great War," set to be presented at Oldcastle on Saturday and Sunday.

The play, which includes period-era songs and visuals, dramatizes the experiences of soldiers from Bennington who fought in World War I more than 100 years ago. It comes several years after the company presented a similar documentary-style production, "Bennington Goes to War," about locals who served in World War II.

"Bennington's Great War" relies in part on research by Robert Tegart of the Bennington Historical Society, who has spent about three years researching the topic.

Tegart has compiled a spreadsheet of hundreds of names of people from the area who served in the Great War and said he hopes the play will prompt attendees to approach him after performances to ask about relatives.

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Soldiers represented in the play include George Osterle, three Larin brothers, Charles Clark, Burton Cross, William Beecher, Charles H. Crathern and Irving Bent.

Three actors — Meredith Meurs, David Joseph and Peter Langstaff — serve as narrators, singers and characters in fictionalized scenes.

Langstaff is a longtime member of the company. Meurs and Joseph have both appeared in past Oldcastle productions.

Matt Edwards, who recently launched a pop-up choir that meets monthly at Oldcastle, is serving as the play's musical director. Edwards is pianist for the Bennington County Choral Society, teaches at Mt. Anthony Union Middle School and is choir director for the Second Congregational Church.

The play contains information about significant local sites and the rather astounding fact that Bennington had 33 grocery stores at the time of the war, according to a news release.

"The town has changed a great deal in the last 100 years," Peterson said in the release. "We have found this is an interesting and entertaining to present history with a local flavor."

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. 10. Tickets are $25 each. For reservations or additional information contact Oldcastle at 802-447-1267 or visit their website: www.oldcastletheatre.org.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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