Plummer to perform World War II one-man play at Ramsdell.
MANISTEE — The Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts presents “Live from the Front: Byline Ernie Pyle” as part of the Tightlines for Troops celebration on Saturday, May 18, 2019, at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Ramsdell Theatre. All area veterans are offered free admission, and their families are extended a discounted ticket price.
The play features professional actor Rick Plummer and is set in a bivouac area somewhere just behind the front lines in France, August, 1944, a ship at sea, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, and finally on the little island of Ie Shima, just off Okinawa, April, 18, 1945. Plummer has been touring the play around the country since he first premiered it at West Shore Community College in 2002.
The play celebrates the inner-struggle of beloved war correspondent Ernie Pyle, his shy love of people, his tenderness, and his salty Indiana-farmer humor, Plummer said. Tormented by the horrors of war, Ernie served bravely out of an unspoken, unrecognized patriotism, he added. “He did not glorify war but rather the simple heroism of the American GI who fought and who was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. His was a journalistic, unadorned, rugged writing style which captured the strength and courage of the soldiers he so loved and admired.
“At a time when we are losing World War II veterans at a rate of nearly 1,500 per day, this production celebrates their sacrifice and our freedoms,” said Xavier Verna, the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts executive director.
“I was pursuing my doctoral graduate studies on American historical drama at Southern Illinois University and I found that Pyle was a subject which, for more than 20 years, had captivated my imagination,” Plummer said, explaining how he became interested in Ernie Pyle.
“Ernie, as anyone over 70 can tell you, was this country’s most celebrated and beloved war correspondent,” Plummer said. “His column was syndicated in over 200 daily and 300 weekly newspapers, he had a readership of over 40 million people, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in 1944. Most importantly, however, he was read eagerly by the folks back home because they knew his plain, sharp writing told them exactly what their boys were going through ‘over there.’”
As a kid growing up in Indiana in the early 50s, Plummer said his childhood play centered on what he and his young pals called either “GIs and Krauts” or “War.” He had a vague understanding, even then as a 7-8 year old, that his dad was a WWII combat veteran, and he was disappointed that his father didn’t talk much about his experiences, Plummer said. It was only in later years that it occurred to Plummer that maybe it was just too painful for his dad to relive the horrors of his experiences. As Plummer grew older he read bits and pieces of both “Here Is Your War” and “Brave Men,” two compilations of Ernie Pyle’s WWII columns which were around his childhood home, and it was then that he learned about the realities of that war that he was so intent on romanticizing as a child.
“The reading of Ernie’s eloquent stories was especially exciting for me because Ernie and my dad both grew up near each other in Indiana. But it was following my own tour of duty in Vietnam that Ernie’s sensitive and poignant writing became so vivid,” Plummer said.
Plummer’s research into Ernie’s writing and his unrecognized heroism continues to be a moving adventure for him. And the adventure reached a new level with the touring production of his one-man play entitled, “Live from the Front: Byline Ernie Pyle.” The production of the play is not only the culmination of years of work, but it is most especially a heartfelt debt of honor Plummer said he believes that he owes his father, Ernie, and all WWII veterans—those still living and those who have left us.
Plummer said he is aware that the salty language in the play may be off-putting to some. He said he reminds audiences that Ernie was always concerned that his editors would clean him up. “Certainly when Hollywood filmed ‘The Story of GI Joe’ based on Ernie and his writing, his biggest worry was that they’d use what he called ‘Gosh, Darn’ or ‘Oh, Heck’ dialogue.”
The language in the play, Plummer said, is realistic, adding that while some might find a word or phrase even offensive, it’s salty because Ernie either wrote it, said it, or would have said it.
“And out of deference to his memory, I want to present him to audiences unvarnished, unadorned, unsanitized—the way he really was.”
Rick Plummer has directed over 150 productions and played as many roles in a 50 year career as a professional actor, director, and theater educator. He managed the theater and performing arts program at West Shore Community College. Before assuming that position, he created and managed an award-winning touring theater in Missouri, and directed acting programs at both the University of Alabama, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, and The University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Plummer’s acting and directing credits include stock, tour, TV, outdoor drama, dinner theater, Shakespeare festival, and university and community theater. Onstage, he has been seen in “Journey to the Day” (in a production starring both Justine and Jason Bateman), as Caesar in “Julius Caesar,” Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” and Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady.” Most recently audiences have seen Plummer in “Noises Off,” “How I Learned to Drive,” “Escanaba in Da Moonlight,” “Dracula,” “Othello,” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” He played the chief villain in the film, “Mickey Matson and the Copperhead Treasure” and is seen in the major film release, “God Bless the Broken Road.” Plummer just played Abraham Lincoln in a short, virtual reality film for Pure Flix and 10 West Studios.
Plummer served two years in Vietnam, 1968-1970, and now lives in Ludington along with his wife, professional actress Christine, his 41-year-old son Stephen and his wife, their 27 year-old son Elliot and his wife and family, 24 year-old daughter Emma Grace, and 21 year-old son Kaedin.
Tickets for “Live from the Front: Byline Ernie Pyle” are free for all veterans, $8 for adults, and $5 for veteran family members. Tickets may be purchased at My North Tickets, 800-836-0717. For further information about the production, call Xavier Verna, Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts executive director, at 231-398-9770, or email Plummer at [email protected].