During the 1846-48 war between Mexico and the United States, a U.S. battalion composed mostly of Irish immigrants jumped to the Mexican side. Of those Soldiers of St. Patrick who were captured, 50 were sentenced to hang and most were whipped 50 times and branded with a D for deserter on the cheek.
"A Flag to Fly," Chris Matthews' stunning drama at the Celtic Arts Center in Los Angeles about seven of those awaiting the gallows, is a testament to a belief in right and justice that is as pertinent as today's headlines in its condemnation of jingoistic brutality.
Most of the Irish-American men in the battalion had fled Ireland to escape famine and religious persecution, but these men soon came to see the United States' presence in Mexico, which resulted in the annexation of a large portion of that country, as an inequity.
If the play has a flaw, it is its brevity. Another 30 minutes to its one-hour length would have allowed Matthews to provide further details in the Matthew Brady-like snapshots he has taken of his seven prisoners. His program notes describe this as "a very stylized version of the full production, without Yankee soldiers, subsets and crowd scenes."
Although these seven soldiers are enough to make his point, we would like to spend a little more time with them, feel a little more of the pain of the 4 1/2 hours they spend in nooses, waiting and watching the final battle of Chapultepec and the raising of the American flag.
Matthews directs his fine cast with passion and compassion. The seven are played by Mike Vaughn, William Brochtrup, Patrick Thornton, Pete Gallatin, Neal Eastman, Chris Campbell and Martin Maguire. Theirs is ensemble work of intricacy and richness, one that shows an understanding of the humor and poetry in the Irish soul.
Peter Strauss' intricate lighting, Evan McGraph's realistic sound and Tera Dawn Oppenheimer's authentically battered costumes all help to bring this moment of heroism into focus.
"A Flag to Fly," written and directed by Chris Matthews; through Sept. 17 at 5651 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets: $10. (213) 462-6844.