Review: ‘This Evil Thing’ tells plight of conscientious objectors

World War I conscripts faced their own battles

By Kevin Spradlin
PiedmontPostNC.com

GREENSBORO — Growing up in London, war didn’t seem to make very much sense to Michael Mears.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com On a minimalist set, playwright and actor Michael Mears used a Bible, a potato and a pencil case to help tell the story of conscientious objectors during World War I.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com
On a minimalist set, playwright and actor Michael Mears used a Bible, a potato and a pencil case to help tell the story of conscientious objectors during World War I.

Flash forward a few years later — and a few more — and the actor and playwright turned life into art. Mears has brought his one-man play to the United States for 18 performances in eight states and Washington D.C. On March 16, Mears brought the show to the Sternberger Auditorium at Guilford College in Greensboro. The show was sponsored by the Quaker House of Fayetteville.

The idea for the play began many years ago. At the age of 15, Mears sketched the phrase, “war is illogical” on the side of his pencil case. The image is now a strong part of the minimalist set he travels with on a regular basis.

Through the 90-minute play, Mears portrays more than four dozen voices — much of it centered around the real-life story of Bert Brocklesby. In 1916, Brocklesby was a 25-year-old schoolteacher in northern England. He was also a Methodist lay preacher and, as such, did not believe in war or supporting it in any way. As an absolutist, Brocklesby was not prepared even even to peel potatoes to help feed the troops.

Photo by Simon Richardson

Photo by Simon Richardson

Such a position sparked outrage among “real men,” those who answered their nation’s call for help. People like Brocklesby were subjected to emotional and physical abuse and, at times, torture.

Literature provided to those who attended the show, which was free, included a newsletter from The Center on Conscience & War. The information included a brief U.S. history of those who did not believe fighting could solve the world’s problems. Immigrants heeded William Penn’s call in the 1630s to live in a place where people wouldn’t have to bear arms.

During World War I, many people declared their status as conscientious objectors. Some were religious, some were not.

"This Evil Thing" has eight more performances in the U.S. on its current tour. The closest location occurs at 7 p.m. on April 21 at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington D.C.

“This Evil Thing” has eight more performances in the U.S. on its current tour. The closest location occurs at 7 p.m. on April 21 at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington D.C.

Mears’ play did not seem to want to persuade anyone to reach any particular conclusion. Instead, it seemed primarily intent upon helping people of today understand that many who chose not to fight in battle during World War I did so on principle that “you can’t force a man to murder against his will.”

Filed in: Arts & Entertainment, Featured News, Latest Headlines, Military and Veterans, Regional News

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