MACOMB -- Here's the most interesting event anywhere for the Memorial Day weekend: the world premier of an original play about the Civil War by John Hallwas, author and professor emeritus at Western Illinois University.
Hallwas has taken real people and events in Macomb's history and turned them into a full length drama that plays for the last time on May 28. But it also has been videoed and will be shown on the Macomb PBS affiliate and during Macomb's Heritage Days celebration in June.
The Conflict: A Soldier's Memories of the Civil War is being presented in Macomb at WIU's Hainline Theatre -- and the lead character is W. H. Hainline, a direct ancestor of the family that endowed the theatre with funds. W.H. Hainline was an editor of the Macomb Daily Journal who also served in the Civil War as a youth. He died in 1924.
He wrote about the war obsessively, Hallwas said, and probably suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. He was prisoner at the infamous Andersonville prison camp, and saw his father killed in battle.
The play is presented by the Macomb-based Starry Night Repertory Theatre, and stars professional actor Dan Woods as Hainline, the narrator.
Woods' wife Jeannie Woods is the director of the play and founder of Starry Night, and WIU faculty member.
The play itself, an interesting combination of poetry, music and drama, is extremely well staged and well acted.
It opens as Hainline delivers a Decoration Day speech in 1911 in Macomb's opera house. His talk in the first act combines poetry of the era, music and narration to tell about the Civil War in the words of those who experienced it first hand.
The second act dramatizes the family relationship between Hainline's father, who is a Union soldier in the Civil War, his wife, and his son, Billly, who ultimately becomes W.H. Hainline the narrator.
Billy's mother suffers hardships with her husband away from the farm, and is furious when her husband, home on furlough, reenlists, while Billy at age 16 decides to enlist to serve with his father.
Hallwas commented afterwards that this is a rare portrayal of the impact of the war on a woman.
Conflicts are everywhere in the play -- the glory and horror of war, duty to the nation and to the family, conflicts over the war itself and in the community, as copperheads --southern symphizers -- threaten western Illinois.
It's a fascinating look at Macomb's past and the nation's history with echoes that continue today. It's well worth seeing.
-- Elaine Hopkins
UPDATE 5/28/11: Hallwas is leading tours of Oakwood Cemetery today and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., where you can learn more about the fascinating local history of Macomb.
The Mason-Dixon Line ran through Macomb, with those on the east side of square supporting the Union and those on the west side supporting the south, Hallwas said.
Some prominent local citizens were involved in the underground railroad for escaping slaves. Their graves are in Oakwood which likely is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places but is not listed.
There also are graves of Civil War heroes and other prominent citizens. All come with fascinating stories, another very interesting Memorial Day event Tickets are $10.