Shiloh Rules begins as an unassuming comedy about two grown-up social misfits who take the whole Civil War reenactment thing entirely too seriously—and then take their respective, if grudging, protégés along for the ride. But under Katja Hill's nuanced direction and Derrick Ivey's associate direction, Doris Baizley's script sucker punches them—and us—in mid-show, as a modern-day historic re-enactment of the Battle of Shiloh, which occurred in Shiloh, Tenn., in 1862, goes totally off the rails.
In an instant, a predawn sneak attack by the "Southerners" upends a fairly smug recital of painstakingly correct continuity, costuming and props—but one with no bearing on the realities of war. All notion of playing for points—and a previously coveted "Best Re-enactor" award—suddenly evaporates as the "nurses" are suddenly forced to take care of actually injured men, while the other women must offer what comfort and assistance they can on an altered landscape.
It should surprise no one that Jane Holding and Mary Rowland both fully convince in their roles as the elder re-enactors and ultimately coax tears from their character's experiences of war. By the end, Hilary Edwards and Leanne Norton Heintz have taken somewhat stereotyped characters and found their humanity, with strong support from Barbette Hunter as a modern-day park officer and Bonnie K. Allison Gould as a re-enactment judge, both caught off-guard by the day's events.
In giving her characters a taste of war's true horror, Baizley notes that battles truly can't be "re-enacted"—and if they could, no one should truly want to.