Beyond Glory at Edison Nov. 16

Avatar’s Stephen Lang explores heroism and its costs

Stephen Lang brings his one-man show Beyond Glory, adapted from the book by Larry Smith, to Edison Nov. 16. (Download Hi-Res Image)

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the United States’ highest award for valor in combat. It is very hard to get. Since being signed into law by Abraham Lincoln, only 3,468 medals have been awarded — 70 percent of them posthumously.

In Beyond Glory, actor and playwright Stephen Lang — perhaps best known as Colonel Quaritch in Avatar — presents eight of these stories, at once harrowing and stirring, in the words of the men who lived them.

On Saturday, Nov. 16, Lang will bring his acclaimed one-man-show, which has toured military installations around the world, to Washington University in St. Louis as part of the Edison Ovations Series.

Duty and determination

Adapted from the book by Larry Smith, Beyond Glory gives voice to eight veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Standing on stage alone, flanked by video screens that occasionally evoke the turmoil of combat, Lang reveals the flesh-and-blood figures behind the citations, deftly capturing their pain and pride, their humor and horror, their quiet humility and mind-boggling bravery.

The play opens with John William Finn, a naval aviation ordinanceman who was lying happily in bed with his wife when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In a soldier’s stoic deadpan, Finn describes his initial annoyance at the interruption and his dismay at missing breakfast.

Quickly grasping the situation, he races back to base and takes charge of a 50-calibur machine gun, returning fire for more than two hours despite receiving 21 separate wounds.

Daniel K. Inouye, the former senator from Hawaii — and the son and grandson of Japanese immigrants — recalls his own fury and sense of betrayal at the Pearl Harbor attack. Later, fighting in Europe, Inouye storms a German position but loses his right arm to enemy fire. Astonishingly, he manages to continue forward, pulling a grenade from his detached right hand and tossing it left-handed into a German bunker.

Like many recipients, Inouye ascribes his actions to duty and determination more than heroism. He praises his training and his comrades, and movingly describes the body of a young German he killed. “But I felt we had a mission,” Inouye says. “An ugly mission and the sooner accomplished, the better.”

The hardest thing

The sentiment is echoed by Clarence Sasser, an African-American medic who raced through enemy fire in Vietnam. Shot in both legs, Sasser dragged himself across a muddy rice paddy and, in agonizing pain, spent five hours tending to the wounded.

“You know what the hardest thing was?” Sasser asks. “The hardest thing was laying there all night, listening to them beg for their mamas.

“I did what I did because it was my job,” Sasser adds. “And if I didn’t do it, none of us were going to get out.”

Charles Isherwood, writing in The New York Times, notes that, “With his chiseled physique, commanding square jaw and sharp buzz cut, Mr. Lang might almost seem to be carved from a block of granite.

“But he individualizes each of the eight portraits here with precision and economy,” Isherwood adds, “becoming a new man by a subtle adjustment of posture that alters his physical presence, evoking a new personality through the coloring of his voice.”

Beyond Glory Production still
Stephen Lang (Download Hi-Res Image)

Humanity, heroism and horror

Beyond Glory is part of a wave of fall St. Louis events exploring the experience of soldiers during wartime.

From Nov. 8-24, the Mustard Seed Theatre will present All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, an a cappella musical that tells the true story of an impromptu holiday cease-fire during World War I.

From Dec. 5-15, the Missouri History Museum will present Medal of Honor Rag, in which two survivors of war, a psychiatrist and a Medal of Honor recipient, verbally spar about their experiences. In addition, the museum is also presenting the exhibition I Was a Soldier – Photos by Jerry Tovo, through Jan. 20.

Tickets and sponsors

Beyond Glory will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16. Tickets are $36, or $32 seniors, $28 for Washington University faculty and staff and $20 for students and children.

Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office, located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd; or online, at For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or e-mail

Edison programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors.

Panel discussion Nov. 6

In conjunction with the performance, Mustard Seed Theatre and the Edison Ovations Series will host a panel discussion for veterans and their families at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, in the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre.

The discussion will center on The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The book, part of Edison’s Recommended Reading List, is “a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling. “

Panelists will include:

Deanna Jent, chair of Fontbonne’s Theatre Department and artistic director of Mustard Seed Theatre.

Ralph Barrale, World War II veteran, Private 1st Class.

Lt. Col. James Craig, U.S. Army (retired), chair of Military and Veterans Studies, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Mike Pereira, director of community service, Washington University Student Veterans Association.

Steve Wahle, fellowship program associate, The Mission Continues.

For more information, visit