As soon as Stephen Lang finished reading his basketball buddy Larry Smith’s book “Beyond Glory,” he said he immediately knew it was destined for the stage.
“Something in me just responded to it,” said actor, director and playwright Lang. “This was a beautiful piece of journalism, and with the proper hand, someway this could turn into a beautiful piece of theater.”
Smith, who was the managing editor of Parade magazine at the time and played basketball with Lang on Sunday mornings, recounts the heroic, true combat stories of 24 American soldiers who received the Congressional Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest decoration for valor in combat — in his book.
Of the 24 heroic tales, Lang chose eight war stories, ranging from World War II to Vietnam, for his 80-minute one-man performance, which will be coming to Orange’s Lutcher Theater Nov. 5.
Lang, who played military roles in many Hollywood productions including Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in “Gods and Generals,” Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett in “Gettysburg,” and even warlord Khalar Zym in “Conan the Barbarian” (2011), said he felt he had a responsibility in “Beyond Glory” to represent the soldiers’ stories as accurately and comprehensively as possible while at the same time presenting them in an entertaining manner.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Lang said. “These are not made-up or fictional characters. These are real, living, breathing men. But also, the stage has other demands. (The show) has to be dramatic, it has to be suspenseful and it has to be entertaining.”
Lang said that although the action that each of these brave soldiers took during their respective theater of war is the most dramatic and exciting part of their stories, the character of each individual was cemented long before they ever saw combat.
“It happened in how they grew up — in the adversity they faced … in the influence that their father … their mother and the environment had on them,” he said. “The story goes way beyond just that action … and reverberates past that action.”
Switching between each of the eight characters can be challenging as well, Lang added.
“It has to be a quicksilver switch,” he said, “ absolutely immediate and very precise.”
With almost a 40-year span between the outbreak of World War II and the end of the Vietnam War and without the convenience of being able to use actual historical sites where the battles were fought, a possibility on the silver screen, drawing the audience into the theaters of war rests solely on Lang’s shoulders and is dependent on the musical score, he said.
“It’s kind of a contract between the person on stage and the people watching,” Lang said. “If I can be evocative enough … if I can be specific enough and authentic enough that the audience enters in willingly to this contract where they begin to experience … the mountains of Korea or Pearl Harbor … they take it on faith.”
The music of “Beyond Glory” is originally scored by Robert Kessler, also known for composing the 16-part PBS series “Freedom: A History of US.”
“It’s beautifully scored,” Lang said. “I love the music for this. I went to him when I first started working on this in 2003 and we went through it and over a period of months, he composed the score.”
Lang said his inspiration for “Beyond Glory” was not politically based or biased.
“I wanted to do something that had not a shred of politics in it, that had to do with some of the core principles of not only being an American, but of being civilized,” Lang said. “Maybe it’s slightly ironic that I chose war to do that, but the truths … the qualities that emerge from these men are such deep, important and fine qualities.”
Lang said he has performed the piece all over the world, but that he can especially see the emotional affect “Beyond Glory” has when he brings it to U.S. military bases.
“I remember doing a show on the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear carrier that was out in the Persian Gulf,” Lang said. “I did a show for the chief petty officers and their men. These were the really old souls who had been in for 30 years. I could just see them nodding their heads in recognition. So much of the emotions (of the show) were familiar to them. It was very moving to me.”
According to Smith’s book, written in 2003, since the Medal of Honor was established in 1958, it has been awarded to 82 African-Americans, 41 Hispanic-Americans, 32 Asian-Americans, 16 Jews and 3,269 others.
“Those who hold the Medal of Honor do not like to be called ‘winners,’” Smith writes. “They feel that the actions for which they have been recognized have nothing to do with anything that might be interpreted as a contest. Therefore they are ‘recipients’ to whom the Medal has been ‘awarded.’”
Lang is a 2003 MovieGuide Award winner for his role as Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in “Gods and Generals.” He also was nominated for several Teen Choice and MTV awards for his role as Col. Miles Quaritch in the movie, “Avatar.”
Lang will perform “Beyond Glory” at Lutcher Theater, 707 Main Ave., in Orange Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $45. For more information visit www.lutcher.org  or call (409) 886-5535.
For a related article, see http://theexaminer.com/stories/news/port-arthur-hero-veterans-be-honored-lutcher-theater