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VOL. 129 | NO. 226 | Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lang Brings One-Man Show to Orpheum

By Andy Meek

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Hollywood star Stephen Lang is a familiar presence on the silver screen, most famous for his roles in movies like “Avatar,” in which he plays Colonel Quaritch, and “Tombstone,” which includes his turn as Ike Clanton.


He’s also an accomplished stage actor, something a Memphis audience will get to see firsthand with Lang’s one-man show “Beyond Glory” that he’s bringing to The Orpheum Theatre Nov 22.

The production is something of a war memorial in play form. In it, Lang plays eight different Medal of Honor warriors recounting their experiences, stories he plucked from author Larry Smith’s book of the same name. He first began performing as the series of different servicemen 10 years ago, debuting “Beyond Glory” on stage in 2004 and going on to take it around the country and around the globe.

He put it on the shelf in 2007, with big projects like James Cameron’s “Avatar” requiring significant amounts of his time. But he’s now returned to the role and is again taking it around the country, and in an interview with The Daily News, the acting veteran explained why the military-themed play, as challenging as a one-man, 80-minute show is, “fits me like a really comfortable boot.”

“I had read an advance copy of the book upon which I’ve based the play, and when I did, I found the individual stories being told were so compelling and so unvarnished and so authentic and exciting that it kind of struck a chord in me,” Lang said. “I also thought there was something inherently theatrical about it – that there were theatrical possibilities for it. So I just started messing around with it. I took a piece of journalism, which is what it was, a very good piece of journalism, and began trying to shape it into a dramatic context.”

Lang went on to take the play everywhere from Chicago to Broadway to as far away as the Middle East during its first run from 2004 to 2007 and estimates performing it more than 300 times. Those performances also included shows in front of military audiences, for whom the play carries a natural resonance.

In some ways it’s an unsurprising and natural artistic choice for the actor, who seems to have a particular flair, with his familiar buzz cut and square jaw, for commanding attention in military roles. In this one, he tells stories and portrays characters including that of Vice Admiral James Stockdale, a Vietnam veteran who spent a little less than a decade as a prisoner of war.

As Daniel Inouye, an Army lieutenant during World War II who would go on to serve as a U.S. senator, Lang recalls the bloody horror of Pearl Harbor, using the memories of someone who was there to take audiences back to the day that still lives in infamy.

“In 2007, I stopped doing the show,” Lang says. “I had other things to do at the time, but a year ago I decided to pick it back up again. I felt it was still timely and timeless. It’s the most challenging piece of acting I’ve ever had to do, and we took it out on the road last year. We took it on a good tour, and it was very successful and interesting, and I enjoyed doing it. And so we took it out again this year, which is what’s going to bring us to Memphis.

“I feel comfortable when I get in these characters. It’s a challenge every night, because it’s 80 uninterrupted, sustained minutes of me, of just concentrated, very, very focused storytelling. I find it a challenge every night, and I take a good, deep breath when I go on. And I hope audiences come away with an admiration and appreciation for the achievements of these men I portray.”

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