The holidays looked grim for the soldiers on the Western Front in December 1914. Promising peace initiatives seeking an end to World War I had been scuttled; a personal appeal from Pope Benedict XV had come to naught.
But during the week before Christmas, a strange sort of call and response had developed between the opposing trenches bordering no man's land. Since both encampments were so close to one another, they could easily hear the other side whenever a group of soldiers got together to share a holiday song. In short time, after the English sang a number, the Germans would reply in kind.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, an impromptu and officially unauthorized truce took effect. Up and down the Western Front, an estimated 100,000 soldiers from both sides met in no man's land, exchanged food and souvenirs, and fought each other—in rowdy soccer matches. Peace broke out, until perplexed higher-ups put a stop to it the next day.
Playwright Peter Rothstein has based his 2007 music theater work on popular songs from the period, as well as letters, war documents, gravestone inscriptions and radio broadcasts. Jeri Lynn Schulke and music director Sue Klausmeyer lead the Cantari Men's Ensemble in what should be a moving a cappella and spoken word memoir of the day the soldiers ended war. This weekend's opening performances are at 8 p.m. Friday–Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday; the run continues Thursday–Sunday through Dec. 16. —Byron Woods