Civil War Ghosts: Bad Acting Wrecks a Philosophical Spook Story. 

In 2006, Playwrights Forum scored an Ostrander Award for best original script with Pound, Sean O'Leary's sparklingly complex play about Ezra Pound, the fascist American poet and spiritual father of modernist verse.

The shoestring production was a thrilling example of everything that's good and right with this small but tenacious theater group dedicated to staging new works by emerging writers. So it makes perfect sense that the Forum would produce Beneath Shelton Laurel, another intriguing play by O'Leary, a clever writer who tends to construct his fictional encounters as extensions of historical record. It makes no sense at all, however, that this emotionally charged examination of events related to an actual Civil War-era massacre of civilians by Confederate troops, hasn't been given the workout it deserves.

Beneath Shelton Laurel tells the story of two Confederate officers with blood on their hands who are forced to confront, quite literally, the ghosts of their past. The play is an all-too-relevant essay on the human animal's ability to rationalize even the most horrible deeds in order to avoid guilt and responsibility.

As the aging officers, notable actors Marler Stone and Jim Spratley both struggle to remember their lines and stammer through what little they easily recall. And that's too bad, because these wrecked parts seem to have come custom-made for these generally capable performers. Tripp Hurst fares much better as the angry ghost of Old Jim Shelton. Randi Sluder’s full and furious portrayal of Patsy Shelton, Jim's formidable widow is, by turns, heartbreaking and heroic.

American history enthusiasts may still enjoy Beneath Shelton Laurel in spite of its flaws. It's a resonant, Greek Tragedy-inspired meditation on the legacy of war and mankind's darker angels.

Beneath Shelton Laurel is at TheatreWorks through March 16. 725-2040.

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