Lang brings acclaimed one-man show to CityStage

Oct. 10, 2013
Stephen Lang adapted the eight Medal of Honor stories himself from the book “Beyond Glory” by Larry Smith.
Reminder Publications submitted photos
By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Actor Stephen Lang may be familiar to millions of movie fans as the villainous military man in “Avatar,” but the stage and screen vet drew positive reviews well before the blockbuster film with his one-man show “Beyond Glory.”

Lang is once again performing the show – he hasn’t undertaken it since 2007 – in a tour that includes a performance at CityStage on Oct. 20.

Speaking to Reminder Publications, Lang explained the genesis of the show.

“I had a basketball buddy who was the managing editor of Parade magazine, Larry Smith, who gave me an uncorrected copy [of his book ‘Beyond Glory’],” he said.

Smith’s book tells the stories of Medal of Honor winners and Lang was transfixed by what he read.

“I heard the voices so clearly,” he recalled.

With Smith’s permission, Lang took one chapter and started “to shape it into a bouillon cube of theater.”

He adapted the chapter and then began developing the play at the renowned Actor’s Studio in New York City. Lang said he would work on one character and then add another until he reached the point of telling the stories of eight of the men.

He completed the work in May 2003 and in March 2004 he produced and performed it at a theater in Arlington, Va. – the start of 400 performances he gave through 2007.

That run included producing the play on Broadway, which yielded positive reviews.

Christopher Isherwood praised the play in his New York Times review, saying, “With his chiseled physique, commanding square jaw and sharp buzz cut, Mr. Lang might almost seem carved from a block of granite. But he individualizes each of the eight portraits here with precision and economy, a new man by a subtle adjustment of posture that alters his physical presence, evoking a new personality through the coloring of his voice.”

Lang readily admitted that becoming eight different characters on stage was “a challenge to revisit.”

He added the men’s stories are “as timely as they are timeless.”

Part of that challenge is being on the stage alone.

“So much of acting has to with listening [to fellow performers],” Lang said. “You create an energy between them.”

In a show such as this one, he explained, “It all falls on your shoulders. You are more aware of your relationship with the audience.”

An actor, Lang said, “never wants your ‘acting’ to show.” In this play, the audience sees Lang change characters before them in “a very quicksilver way.”

Unlike so many Broadway extravaganzas “Beyond Glory” is “a lean show in its way – the characters are so rich,” he said.

Lang has spent much of his career in the theater – he was nominated for a Tony of his work in “The Speed of Darkness” – but he has been in many films and television shows. He enjoys both film and theater and said, “I love working. I love a good part. Both in their own way [they] deliver so much fulfillment for an actor.”

In theater, Lang said there is “an immediate response form the audience. You get to do the A to Z of a story … it gets richer and deeper in repetition.”

With film, an actor “can go into world only imagined on stage.”

He added, “I feel fortunate to have crossed over those frontiers.”

With a steady stream of film work in the past few years, Lang said, “I haven’t done a play in five years and it was time to carve out time to do one.”

When asked if he predicted the kind of box office success “Avatar” received when he read the script, Lang said, “I knew it was a great story. I knew it was a terrific role. I knew it was as ambitious as can be. I never doubted James Cameron’s ability to transfer it to the screen, but no one predicted the global phenomena.”

Lang’s portrayal of the villainous Col. Miles Quaritch in the film was memorable, but Lang said he has suffered from typecasting.

“I’ve done a lot of military guys. I do get offered my share … I don’t mind if I’m being thought of [for such] roles as long as I get the opportunity to do others.”

He cited his new film, “A Good Marriage,” in which he co-stars with Joan Allen. He plays a “broken down detective.”

He added, “ I couldn’t ask for someone further than a fierce military guy.”

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