Sgt. Charles Edward Dilkes

Photo courtesy of Virginia Dilkes

CAPE MAY – The East Lynne Theater Company is partnering with the Bickford Theatre to present a staged reading of a play about World War I.

The New Jersey Theatre Alliance will present a staged reading of “A Year in the Trenches” Tuesday, March 21 at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morristown. The new play was written by James Rana and developed with Gayle Stahlhuth, artistic director of the East Lynne Theater Company in Cape May. It was commissioned by the New Jersey Historical Commission and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

“The World War I centennial offers us an opportunity to reexamine a period of history that seems absolutely relevant to today,” said Sara R. Cureton, executive director of the New Jersey Historical Commission. “Questions regarding how the U.S. should engage with the rest of the world, the role of women in society, the treatment of immigrants, the nature of modern warfare, and the meaning of patriotism challenged citizens of 1917, just as they bedevil us now. ‘A Year in the Trenches’ shines a spotlight on how some New Jerseyans confronted these issues and brings us greater understanding of both the past and present.”

The play is based on Sgt. Charles Edward Dilkes’ “Remembering World War I: An Engineer's Diary of the War,” as well as other historical sources. The staged reading and Q&A start at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

The Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum is located at 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown. For reservations, call 973-971-3706.

“A Year in the Trenches” will have additional readings at noon Friday, April 28 at the Toms River branch of the Ocean County Library and July 18 at McGuire Air Force Base. East Lynne Theater Company will give the play a full production in the fall.

Dilkes, who was born in Philadelphia but spent the rest of his life in New Jersey, appears in the play alongside a medley of contemporaries: poet Joyce Kilmer, pilot Kenneth Russell Unger, nurse Amabel Scharff Roberts, “Hello Girl” (switchboard operator) Grace Banker, and other New Jerseyans who went to Europe in 1917, when the United States entered World War I.

“We are proud to co-commission this new play with New Jersey Historical Commission,” said Nick Paleologos, executive director of New Jersey State Council on the Arts. “Bringing the struggles of the past to life on stage is one of the countless ways that art can bring empathy and understanding to the challenges of the present. And by doing so, it paves the way to a better future.”

The free reading, directed by Eric Hafen, artistic director of the Bickford Theatre, is one of dozens of events being offered to New Jersey residents and visitors throughout March as part of the Stages Festival, a statewide festival of theatre offering over 80 theatre performances and programs for children and adults free of charge or at significantly discounted rates. For a full listing of events, program details, and registration information visit