Playwright: G. Riley Mills
At: Prop Thtr, 4225 N. Lincoln Ave.
Phone: (773) 348-7767; $18-$20
Runs through: March 23
First comes the plan: an underwater vessel capable of advancing unseen on the Yankee blockade-ship guarding Charleston harbor and then firing a torpedo at close range to sink it. Then comes the capital to finance it and the selection of a crew willing to risk their lives in its highly experimental operation—not too surprisingly, they turn out to be dissimilar in personality, united only in their loyalty to the Confederacy. There's also a girl, of course—the captain's fiancée—to fret over her sweetheart's safety. But after episodes of internal dissension and an initial foray ending in disaster, the mission is finally accomplished, the signal lamp raised to alert allies of victory, and the courageous men responsible disappear, never to be heard of again.
Not until 2000, that is—over a century later—when the derelict submarine was recovered from its watery grave and the bodies of its men discovered, astonishingly enough, to be readily identifiable. But even if its details weren't based in fact, Raising Blue would be a thrilling story. Playwright G. Riley Mills, the author of 1998's Sawdust And Spangles, has taken a lesson from that meticulously researched but unfocused docudrama and shaped this narrative of The War Between The States (as it was called in the South) to conform to the familiar conventions of the action/adventure film genre.
And it works like a charm (did I mention the lucky piece that Captain Dixon's beloved gives him, found still intact in his possession despite 136 years submerged in the briny depths?). So accustomed are we to cheering for the David against the Goliath that it doesn't matter that the enemy blood our patriotic heroes so long to spill is OURS and that their triumph did not prevent them losing the war. From the start, we're in their corner.
Adam Theisen directs a cast of actors whose speech and appearance locate us immediately, their milieu enhanced by David Algeo Smith's mournful fiddle music and a score of authentic period songs, performed with skills never exceeding those of the characters'. Eric Appleton's scenic design whisks us from Atlantic-coast dockside into the very bowels of the Secret Weapon. History lessons should all be this exciting.