Professor stars in three-part play on Civil War

Melanie Julian plays the main character of the production, “Lydie Breeze.”

David Girard (left) and Melanie Julian, a voice and acting professor, perform in the world premiere of the first full presentation of “Lydie Breeze” at the Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City. | COURTESY / DAVE SARRAFIAN

As an actress, Melanie Julian carries her manuscripts with her everywhere she goes.

The manuscript for her latest performance is beaten up, crinkled and coffee-stained. This particular manuscript has every line for part one of the “Lydie Breeze” trilogy.

Even though she is still in the early stages of her performance, each page is filled with highlights and scribbles.

“There’s pressure with it,” said Julian, who plays Lydie, the main character in the play. “In the first play, Lydie’s in every single scene, and she’s really the connecting line throughout the whole play.”

Julian, a voice and acting professor, is performing in the world premiere of the first full presentation of “Lydie Breeze,” a series of three plays written and directed by Tony Award-winning playwright John Guare.

The first installment of the play, “Cold Harbor,” is showing at the Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City through Feb. 11. The second and third installments will be performed in March and April, and the three-part epic will be performed all together April 25 through May 6.

Each part of the trilogy is about two-and-a-half hours and centers around Lydie Breeze, a nurse who worked for the Union Army during the Civil War and seeks the truth about her father’s death. She finds herself in the company of many people on different sides of the war.

Part one of the play focuses on the aftermath of the Battle of Cold Harbor, one of the final orders of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, in which thousands of Union soldiers were killed in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

In February 2017, Guare visited EgoPo Classic Theater, a nonprofit theater company on American and Filbert streets that is producing this rendition of “Lydie Breeze.” While there, Guare saw Julian acting in “The Seagull,” a production written by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

Guare was enthralled by her performance and decided to cast her as Lydie.

“It’s incredibly flattering, and just kind of incredible, that John Guare…had that kind of belief in me to do the role,” Julian said.

Julian said this is one of the biggest roles of her acting career, and for the first part of the trilogy, she is in every single scene.

In the play, Victoria Goins, a 2017 strategic communication alumna,  plays Zenna, who is the live-in nurse for Lydie’s father.

She said the play is a dark and humorous drama.

“It fools the audience into thinking that they’re on this fun adventure story through the eyes of Lydie Breeze, with her trying to find out what happened to her father,” Goins said. “It’s important for people to come in and realize that oftentimes we are entertained by things that are very…ugly and dark and very much so reflective of our reality and our society today.”

Goins, who took some theater classes at Temple, said she never had the chance to take one of Julian’s classes, but was excited to work with her in the trilogy.

The cast started rehearsals in December 2017 and practiced six days a week.

“[Julian] never ever complains, no matter how stressful practice gets, no matter how stressful the rehearsal process gets,” Goins said. “She’s always patient and willing and kind, and that is the best type of castmate that you could ask for.”

Julian said she draws inspiration from her 3-year-old daughter, Emmeline, who she describes as playful and imaginative. Julian tries to stretch her imagination beyond physical barriers in her acting the way Emmeline does while playing.While fully immersing herself into scenes for the play, Julian has had to pretend that a rope is a bayonet and that a box is a moving horse-drawn carriage.

“It’s a real gift to be able to create something out of nothing, and it truly is amazing to watch her play,” Julian said. “It’s incredible, and luckily, I act and I get to kind of do that.”

Because the play is broken down into three parts, the actors and actresses will go through two more rehearsal processes for the second and third parts.

Julian said the character of Lydie’s resilience in the face of struggle empowers her to achieve success.

“I thought, ‘I get to play this person who’s so…positive, and really, really deep in her heart, believes that she’s going to make the world better,’” Julian added.

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