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Stephen Lang in a scene from the film “Beyond Glory.”
 
Film shares stories about Medal of Honor recipients

By Kris DiLorenzo

IRVINGTON — On a Sunday morning in 2004, basketball junkies Larry Smith, a writer, and Stephen Lang, an actor, were playing in a regular weekly game at the Mount Kisco YMCA, and unknowingly set the ball rolling for “Beyond Glory,” the movie to be screened next Friday, Dec. 16, at the Irvington Town Hall Theater.

Smith, a 76-year-old retired newspaperman and former Irvington resident, penned The New York Times best-seller “Beyond Glory,” a collection of personal stories told by 24 National Medal of Honor winners that was published by W.W. Norton in 2004. He had brought a copy to the game for another player, and Lang, sitting near Smith in the bleachers, asked to see it.

“Beyond Glory” fired Lang’s imagination, and soon he had distilled it into a one-man tour-de-force in which he played eight of the medalists. The show debuted at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington, D.C., then in 2005 moved to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. In 2007, it transferred to off-Broadway, opening at the Roundabout Theater’s Laura Pels Theatre. A Wall Street Journal reviewer called the play “one of the richest, most complex pieces of acting I've seen in my theatergoing life."

After its 100-performance run, Lang retired the play while he took on other projects. Then, in 2014 he toured it to more than 50 military locations. Soon, Lang’s friend, director Larry Brand (who shot “The Girl on the Train” in the Rivertowns last year) decided to film the play at The Flea, a small downtown Manhattan theater.

The result is 2015’s acclaimed cinematic version of Smith’s portraits of the veterans, as channeled by Lang. Smith’s former next-door neighbor and longtime family friend, architect Earl Ferguson, brought “Beyond Glory” to the attention of Beth Ryan, a member of the Town Hall Theater Commission. “I thought it was appropriate for the hometown boy to share his work with his fellow citizens,” Ferguson told the Enterprise. “I’ve read the book and seen the play, and I’m looking forward to seeing the film.”

Ryan is excited about screening “Beyond Glory.”

“We felt it serves a great purpose in that we have a local connection,” she said. “It’s a wonderful film. We’re reaching out to veterans’ organizations to try to get as many veterans present as we can. It’s really powerful, and it’s something I think an audience of veterans would appreciate.”

Smith will travel from his home on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, to participate with Brand in a Q&A session after the screening.

The author explained how the book evolved: “What made me do it was my boss. We were looking for a Fourth of July story for Parade magazine in 2000. I decided to call Medal of Honor guys to see what they had to say about how the Fourth of July should be celebrated. We did it all by phone.”

Smith was surprised that the veterans were forthcoming about their combat experiences. “Everyone gave me what felt like 2 feet of material. When I went to put it into the magazine, there wasn’t enough room. More than one person said to me, ‘That’s a book.’ In 2001, I called [Colonel] ‘Barney’ Barnum, the president of the Medal of Honor Society at the time, which keeps close tabs on the members to make sure they don’t have any problems, and asked him about a book. Barney said, ‘What’s in it for us?’”

Smith offered them part of the book advance, and felt it was well worth it. “I thought these guys were fascinating, and it would be great to get their stories out there. They are venerated, but rarely do they get to talk about what their lives were like. I found very little material where these guys gave you a sense of who they were, so I went to 24 people all over the country.”

He traveled from coast to coast, interviewing the men (only one woman, Civil War surgeon Mary Edwards Walker, has received the Medal of Honor), including former Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), 1992 vice presidential candidate Admiral James Stockdale (who ran with Ross Perot), and former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.). Smith then sat down with an old-fashioned Dictaphone machine and transcribed his interview tapes.

He was pleased with how Lang used his material. “It’s directly out of the book,” Smith said. “I wanted to be involved in the writing of it, but I couldn’t cut the chapters; I couldn’t cut my own stuff. Lang has done a brilliant job of compressing what he needs to portray the individuals. He somehow manages to convey each individual very distinctively. He’s given it incredible life.”

Lang, 64, a former Mount Kisco resident who now has a home in upstate Kinderhook, portrayed the villainous Colonel Miles Quaritch in the 2009 movie “Avatar,” and will continue to do so in its sequels. Other roles include Happy in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” that starred Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovitch; Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson’s film role) in Broadway’s “A Few Good Men”; and Babe Ruth in a TV movie. He has won Drama Desk and Helen Hayes awards, and was a Tony nominee in 1991 for his lead role as Lou in “The Speed of Darkness,” a drama by Steve Tesich. This past April, at the Phoenix Film Festival, Lang was awarded a special jury prize for acting.

Smith is happy that “Beyond Glory” is still gaining recognition. “The nice thing about the movie is, it’s apolitical,” he explained. “All good war stories, I think, are basically anti-war stories, about how a guy manages to survive in the most dire circumstances. The book was embraced by a wide audience. It appeals to both ends of the political spectrum.”

Irvington Town Hall Theater, 85 Main St., entrance on North Ferris Street, presents “Beyond Glory” on Friday, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $10, can be purchased online at www.irvingtontheater.com or at the door.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


 

DECember 9, 2016

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