If you go
WHAT: "He Cannot Escape Always: A Brother's Unfortunate Prophecy"
WHEN: 7 p.m. today
WHERE: Edmondston-Alston House, 21 East Battery St.
MORE INFO: piccolospoleto.com, (866) 811-4111
Charleston natives know that the Edmondston-Alston House has a unique place in Antebellum and Civil War history, and now locals and visitors alike have a chance to learn about the personal, traumatic history of its inhabitants.
"He Cannot Escape Always: A Brother's Unfortunate Prophecy," a dramatic reading of the Alston family correspondence during the Civil War, will be presented at the historic house on East Battery Street. The presentation recounts the life and death of John Julius Pringle Alston. The show previously was mounted in 2013, when Scott Watson, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs, saw it and considered it a good addition for the Piccolo Spoleto Festival.
The Alston family's correspondence spans more than 50 years, beginning at the start of the war and extending through the death of Pringle Alston. The Middleton Place Foundation, which owns and operates the Edmondston-Alston House, has held onto the letters and used them for select readings before, but the foundation's Vice President Tracey Todd felt these particular letters lent themselves to a dramatic reading.
"They're very detailed and poignant," Todd said. "They show how they supported each other during the war and the trials that they went through, and how they suffered through that loss."
Todd said that the Alston family's story was both unique for its richness and emblematic of the period. He felt that the reading could help dispel the belief that the Civil War was "the rich man's war and the poor man's fight."
"These boys were in the fight very much, and that comes out," Todd said.
The show is more of a staged reading than a traditional play, which better suits the space and the material, according to director Steve Lepre.
"It's in the house, there's no room for staging," Lepre said. "It's best to let the actors and the words convey the moment. The atmosphere of the house really helps."
In addition to the reading, the event also will feature a reception at the Edmondston-Alston House. The show and reception add up to Piccolo Festival's most expensive event at $55 per ticket.
"It's close to being dinner and a show," Todd said. "It gives the audience a chance to meet and talk with the cast, the director and the historians involved, and there's a beautiful view of the harbor from the second-floor piazza."
That second-floor piazza has its own historical importance in American history: it's where General P.T. Beauregard watched the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, which started the war.
The show has been tweaked since its September 2013 debut; spirituals have been added.
"The spirituals help set the tone, a tone of mourning," Lepre said.
The story is less about the whys of the war and more about the human experience of living through an event that touched almost every family.
"It's hard to find a family that didn't lose a son or two, and we're just getting away from the memory of that loss," said Todd. "My own family, there were five of my ancestors in the same war, and only one survived. A generation of young men were lost."
Max O'Connell is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.
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