‘Gentlemen Volunteers’ Tells the Story of Romance Amidst War


 A captivating scene from the play, first created in 1988 and still a success.

On Friday, February 24 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, February 25 at 2 and 7 p.m. in Brehmer Theater, the Department of Theater In-Residence Artists presented “Gentlemen Volunteers” by the Pig Iron Theater Company.

Members of both the Colgate and Hamilton communities were excited to attend the performance, so much so that there was even a waitlist for entry.

Created in 1998, “Gentlemen Volunteers” is a play made possible by the Pig Iron Theater Company. Pig Iron is unique in theater by incorporating more physicality and interactions with the audience.

The play was coordinated by  Assistant Professor of Theater Christian DuComb, Administrative Assistant at University Theater Jackie Old Coyote-Logan and Chair of the Theater Departement Adrian Giurgea.

“Pig Iron Theater is one of the very few theater companies in the country that survived for more than 20 years while expanding in their mission to bring to their community, in their case Philadelphia, a repertory of highly challenging, demanding, innovatory productions. Pig Iron is composed by actors who trained in Paris at the famous Jacques LeCoq School, where they emphasize the training of the body, with the goal of developing its expressive qualities. The spirit of the school is based on mime, cabaret, circus and the old traditions of commedia del’arte,” Giurgea said.

The plot of the play centered on two men who desperately wanted to play their part in World War I. They signed up to be ambulance drivers for a hospital, excited to make a difference and help save lives.

The men met two female nurses, Mary and Francois, with whom they eventually fell in love. The play told the story of the progression of their relationships and the tumult that was wrought upon their love by war. The characters had to deal with personal struggles in the midst of the war that tore apart their larger worlds; Mary found out that she was pregnant toward the end of the play, and Francois could not bring herself to forget about her late husband, hesitant to fall in love again.

The Scotsman, a Scottish newspaper, remarked in 1999 about the artistic success of the play.

“The production is an aesthetic triumph yet reaches beyond aestheticism to be full of humanity. It’s a thing of beauty and a joy,” the newspaper quoted.

“The Colgate Theater mission is to connect the education of our students with the reality of the professional world. We try to steer our students towards the best kind of theater on a national and, often, international scale. Because Pig Iron is one of the best new theaters in the U.S., we started a collaboration with them seven years ago, when the wonderful production of Chekhov Lizardbrain was performed on campus. Two years ago, a member of Pig Iron, Scott Sheppard, who acted in ‘Gentlemen Volunteers,’ worked as a guest director and created, with students, an original production called Seeing the Beast,” Giurgea said.

The performance did not distinguish between audience and stage. The entire production and viewing took place on the stage, and audience members frequently moved around based on different vantage points of the actors’ performances.

At some points, the actors even grabbed audience members and integrated them as extras in the play, a very engaging technique.

“Gentlemen Volunteers” was a collaboration between Theater and the Departments of Art, Art History and History. Theater Department Chair Giurgea comments on the success.

“This year we celebrate 100 years from the end of WWI, and we wanted to enable, through theater, a common way to remember the momentous event. This production, created 17 years ago, and now performed with a new cast made by the students of the originators, is a wonderful work of theater which is also the signature piece of Pig Iron. It embodies the principles on which the theater’s artistry and the MFA program in theater training (that is the off-spring of Pig Iron) are based. Several students who graduated from Colgate continued their theater training with Pig Iron at the post-graduate level,” Giurgea said.