- The Washington Times - Friday, April 2, 2004

Actor Stephen Lang played Confederate Gen. Stone- wall Jackson in the movie “Gods & Generals” like a marble frieze waiting to be carved. Stern, dignified, gimlet-eyed — he was a profile in granite.

For his new one-man show, “Beyond Glory,” a portrait of seven Medal of Honor recipients, Mr. Lang takes a hammer to the notion that heroes should be played in the heroic style. The American soldiers and sailors he portrays undoubtedly are heroes, but their flaws run deep, like their integrity. Bitterness is mixed with pride; ambiguity bleeds into the red, white and blue.

“These guys are so salty, so ungussied up, so truly humble and their voices so genuine,” Mr. Lang says during a break in rehearsals for the 75-minute performance piece, for which he is not only the star, but writer and director. “What strikes me is the sense of astonishment they convey over the acts that earned them the Medal of Honor.”

Based on the book “Beyond Glory” by Larry Smith, the play takes you to the shuddering tarmac of Kaneohe Bay 63 years ago, as John Finn and his machine gun pull a Rambo on the Day of Infamy.

Future Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, fights both racism and the enemy during his time with the fabled 442nd, the most decorated unit in the history of the Army. His account of continuing to lob grenades at the Germans during a mission at Italy’s Colle Musatello — after his arm has just been torn off by a rifle grenade — is both harrowing and insane. And you gotta laugh when Mr. Inouye recounts how a nurse taught him how to light his Camels with one hand.

James B. Stockdale may be best remembered for his wandering debate performance as Ross Perot’s running mate in 1992, but before that, he flew nearly 200 missions in Vietnam and spent 71/2 years as a prisoner of war. “Got handled roughly,” he notes.

“He is one of the most decorated naval men in history, and people consider him something of a joke because of the Ross Perot connection,” Mr. Lang says.

The play also chronicles the bravery and banked rage of Vernon Baker of the all-black Army division, the 92nd, the famed Buffalo Soldiers. During a battle in Italy in 1945, Lt. Baker single-handedly killed 17 enemy soldiers, took out four machine-gun nests, an observation post and two bunkers.

No black Americans received the Medal of Honor during World War II, so Lt. Baker waited until 1997 before finally receiving his medal from President Clinton. “His life has been an exercise in restraining his anger over his treatment,” Mr. Lang says. “It took him years to reconcile the institutional racism he encountered with his love of country.”

Mr. Lang, who has played military men before in the films “A Few Good Men” and “Gettysburg” (portraying Gen. George Pickett), says he is doing this work mainly for the rapidly thinning ranks of the World War II generation.

“Those veterans will really appreciate it,” he says, “but I am not interested in jingoism and flag-waving. The fact that I love this country is beside the point. Basically, the show is a meditation on bravery, duty and humility.”

One story that did not make the final cut was that of former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who was awarded a Bronze Star for “heroic achievement” in Vietnam but also participated in the killing of women and children during a nighttime mission he led with his Navy SEAL team. From the sourcebook’s 24 stories, Mr. Lang chose seven portraits representing a cross section of ethnicities and 20th-century wars.

“There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding Bob Kerrey — he was only in Vietnam for 52 days, and in that time performed deeds that earned him a Medal of Honor, but he also was involved in a massacre,” Mr. Lang says. “I cut him out of the finished piece because his story veered into politics, and I didn’t want this play to be political. Also, his story told of killing civilians, and I didn’t want to venture into that emotional territory.”

However, Mr. Lang did have a “strange” meeting with Mr. Kerrey. “I went to his office, and he asked me to perform the monologue about him,” Mr. Lang relates. “My eyes were everywhere in the room but on him, but when we made eye contact, all I could see were these penetrating saucer eyes. When it was over, there was dead silence, and all I wanted to do was get out of there. Then Bob said, ‘You have my permission,’ and that was that.”

A few weeks later, Mr. Lang ran into Mr. Kerrey at the New School, the New York university where Mr. Kerrey serves as president. “He asked me how the play was going, and I told him he was cut,” Mr. Lang says with a laugh. “He took it pretty well.”

Last fall, Mr. Lang performed “Beyond Glory” for another tough audience, his colleagues at the Actors Studio in New York. “They are a crusty, left-wing kind of crowd, and I thought they were going to throw me out of the place. But they totally got behind it,” he says. “I guess because the country is so fractured now, it is difficult to talk about things like courage and duty … . It is a very difficult concept — to hate war but support our troops.”

Mr. Lang is producing “Beyond Glory” with his sister Jane, a local philanthropist and lawyer. “My hope is to take it on the road and perform it for the troops, at colleges and at VFWs. I don’t think the piece is going to get old. It is timely and timeless.”

WHAT: “Beyond Glory,” written and directed by Stephen Lang

WHEN: Wednesdays through Sundays, through May 2

WHERE: Theater of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Arlington Cemetery

TICKETS: For ticket information, call 202/772-1165, or visit the Web site www.beyondglory.org.

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