Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Characters of Crossing, Part II: The Mothers and Sons

"Mothers and Sons"

Part Two in a series exploring the history and characters behind Signature’s world premier of Crossing, by Matt Conner and Grace Barnes 

Click here to view Part 1: Freedom Trains

In Signature’s world premier of Crossing, two pairs of mothers and sons wait on the platform. One mother, from the year 1917, dreads the arrival of the train that will take her grown son away to fight in WWI. The other mother, a “war bride” from WWII, tries to ignore her young son’s begging to go for a ride on the next train, but the lure of a new life calls her onward.

A WWI soldier bids his mother farewell from a train; 
samples of letters home from war 
The World of 1917: 
The Mother & The Soldier 
“Someone who doesn’t know the hour because the time flew by.
Someone with something in his heart to make the fight seem right.
Maybe the end or a brand new start, 
someone to stay through the night."

In April 1917, the United States Armed Forces consisted of only 200,000 volunteers, so Congress passed the Selective Service Act, establishing the draft. President Theodore Roosevelt called the war in Europe, “the great adventure.” The nation was swept up in the fervor of patriotism. By the end of the war, 2.8 million men had been called to service. Few knew of the carnage they were about to face.
“After witnessing demonstrations from coast to coast, the men of the 91st felt that they were backed by an undivided nation. The motherly gray-haired old woman standing in front of her little cottage on the broad prairie of Montana, alternately waving a flag and brushing away the tears she could not restrain, contributed as much to this feeling as did the impromptu receptions tendered the men in the great cities through which they passed.” – Richard Rubin, The Last of the Doughboys
Although American losses were comparatively small, more than 100,000 soldiers did not come back to their waiting families. They were forced to fight from cold, disease-infested trenches and endure attacks from deadly tear gas.

 Trench warfare in WWI
One British mother in particular suffered more than most. Amy Beechey lost five of her eight sons to WWI. When the newspapers picked up on her tragic story, Queen Mary of England personally offered her sympathy and thanked her for the sacrifice. Mrs. Beeechey responded:  "It was no sacrifice, Ma’am. I did not give them willingly.”
 WWI soldier recovering from mustard gas burns

The World of 1952: 
The Woman in Pink and The Child
"Here I am.
Waiting for something again,
Looking for a sign,
Something that's mine."

In 1954, WWII had ended, the troops were home, and America experienced the greatest one-year population growth in its history. Despite the peace and stability, young mothers and wives received conflicting messages from society. During the war, women weren’t permitted to fight, but the British and American governments begged them to be nurses, build machines in factories, and work in communications. Recruitment posters showed women as glamorous and independent, and images of women, especially in uniform, were used to sell everything from cigarettes to shoes. Once the war was over, however, women were encouraged to leave the factory jobs and return to their homes. Better Homes and Gardens stressed the importance of keeping the spheres of “home” and “work” separate: "There is simply no room for split-level thinking—or doing—when Mr. and Mrs. set their sights on a happy home, a host of friends, and a bright future through success in his job."

Many of these women were “war brides.” During World War II, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers were stationed in Britain. Many who survived the war came back with English wives. Over 100,000 women left their home country and traveled to the United States. Many of them had successful and happy marriages in their new home. Others struggled to find a place in their new world as they went from being active workers for their homeland to domesticated housewives in a foreign country.

 A ship of War Brides and their young children lands in America
To see how these mothers and their sons confront the upheavals of the world wars, come and see Crossing, directed by Eric Schaeffer with music lyrics by Matt Conner and book by Grace Barnes, from October 29 – November 24.
  For ticket information, visit





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