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A CurtainUp Review
What the play deals with is  . .  the millions who made it possible (schematically speaking) for Hitler not to become a painter.
--- Max Frish, in a letter to his publisher, January 10, 1961
David Barlow, Maggie Lacey, Boris McGiver (Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
When Swiss playwright Max Frisch's Andorra opened on Broadway in 1963 it was so poorly received that it closed after just nine performances (it has been more successful abroad, especially in Germany). With intolerance once again throwing the world into turmoil, is the time ripe for this 1960s allegory about 1940s events to finally come into its own? Can Michael Feingold's new translation overcome previous reactions that the play was too didactic and trivialized the Holocaust? New York theater goers will have all month to see whether the just opened Theatre for New Audience production will hit a more responsive chord -- or make them wish the company had continued its season with another colorful and hit like its recent Cymbeline. ( Our Review).

The play began its long history after World War II as a short story, "An Andorran Jew", which was published in his diary, Sketchbook 1946-49. That story established the character of a young man, a foundling who lived in a fictional Switzerland-like country called Andorra and who was thought by everyone to be a Jew. His name, Andri, should have made him as much an Andorran as anyone, but his being a Jew created an image that kept him a perpetual outsider.

It was not until Adolf Eichmann's trial in 1960 and the ethical debates about what Hanna Arendt called the "banality of evil " that Frisch dramatized and expanded his sketch. Andri became the adopted son of a school teacher who claims to have rescued him from an enemy country ruled by people called, "The Blacks" whose people were murderously anti-Semitic. The fact is that the adoption is a cover-up for an illicit affair with a woman from that country.

Putting a character who is thought by all, including himself, to be a Jew in the midst of a country priding itself as being more tolerant than its northern neighbors, "The Blacks" served as Frisch's dramatic device. That Jew amidst Gentiles enabled him to illustrate how the latent prejudices of ordinary people can turn dangerous when their own existence undergoes upheaval; and that the victim of stereotypic labeling is also prone to lose his identity by taking on the traits attributed to him.

Frisch's finger was pointed as much at the less than exemplary behavior of his own countrymen (they turned away of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution) as the citizens of the Third Reich. Given recent revelations about Swiss banking practices and Daniel Goldhagen's 1997 book Hitler's Willing Executioners, Andorra might well be credited as being ahead of its time.

Bill Buell (masked), Jeffrey Fierson
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
By divesting the new Andorra of the self-justifying monologue with which a different Andorran citizen ended each scene in the original script, Mr. Ciulei has given us less of a documentary style sermon and more of a real play. However, despite a generously sized and generally strong cast, Mr. Feingold's smooth and very speakable translation, and the all too relevant tolerance theme, Andorra fails to raise one's emotional pulse. The exposition of each of the townspeople's exclusionary tactics towards Andri is so repetitious that you shudder to contemplate what the play must have been like with those mercifully excised monologues intact.

The blows dealt to the Andri's optimism about his romance and his impending career as a carpenter (and thus a real Andorran) land with more of a thud than a forceful emotional bang. The second act puts you a bit closer to the edge of your seat with the arrival of a mysterious woman and the occupation of neutral Andorra by the enemy forces with a frightening black leather clad Jew Detector (Jeffrey Fierson) ferreting out Jews by looking only at the feet of each masked citizen. But even these mounting tensions fail to rescue the play from being smothered in its own worthy but pondeorus lesson in tolerance.

The central character, Andri and Barblin, the girl who loves him unconditionally, are sensitively portrayed by David Barlow and Maggie Lacey. They are also the only sympathetic characters. The rest, like the mass stereotypes they symbolize, have no real names but are known only The Teacher, The Innkeeper, The Somebody, The Señora, etc. The cast bravely faces the difficult challenge presented by characters who are essentially caricatures. Boris McGiver turns in a fine performance as the teacher who tries to drown his guilt about being Andri's father in drink. Standouts among the townspeople are Nicholas Kepros as the placating town priest, Bill Buell as the innkeeper and Henry Strozier as the district doctor. Pamela Nyberg dominates the stage in what amounts to a cameo appearance as the mysterious arrival at the Inn. The townspeople suspect her of being a "spyette" for "The Schwartzen." However, her mission is quite personal. Having discovered that Andri has been passed off as a Jew, she now wants the teacher to tell him, his wife (Laurie Kennedy) and everyone else the truth. Her motivation? She can't bear for her son to be thought of as a Jew? The desire to save him from the impending invasion by her countrymen? All of the above?

Randall Parsons' spare white buildings which serve as an apt backdrop for the deceptive purity of this pristine little country (which, incidentally, bears no relation to the real Andorra in the Pyrenees). Beverly Emmons' lighting provides the appropriately contrasting darkness that envelops the country. The several shifts to the Teacher's living room are seamlessly achieved under cover of Mark Bennett's mood-setting sound design.

Besides permitting the pace to lag during the first act, Mr. Ciulei has also let Maggie Lacey, a brunette throughout, to turn blonde when in the end she appears shaven as a "Jew Whore." and once again with a whitewashing brush in hand -- this time to cleanse the place of the bloodshed that has robbed it of its innocence. Maybe that shorn head was intended to look as if it turned white from shock, but it appeared decidedly blonde than white from my 5th row seat.

Finally, there's an exchange between Andri and the priest which had the audience at the performance I attended burst into unintended laughter at Andri's angry "Don't touch me." Andorra contains enough messages without a line that nowadays has the makings of quite another play. It does have its own moments of intended laughter, notably when the doctor examines a sick Andri and asks him to open wide and say "A-a-andorah." but this and the few other attempts at humor, unlike the recent dramatic response to the events of 9-11, The Guys ( our review), don't manage to lift Andorra off the lecture podium.

Written by Max Frisch, translated by Michael Feingold
Directed by Liviu Ciulei
Cast: David Barlow, Bill Buell, Justin Campbell, Jeffrey Pierson, Rafael Kalichstein, Laurie Kennedy, Nicholad Kepros, Peter Keybart, Maggie Lacey , Andrew McGinn , Boris McGiver, David Don Miller, Simeon Moore, Pamela Nyberg, Chip Persons, Jesse Steccato, Henry Strozier and Chandler Williams.
Set Design: Randall Parsons

Costume Design: Catherine Zuber Lighting Design: Beverly Emmons
Sound Design: Mark Bennett
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours including one 15-minute intermission
Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street (7thAve/ Hudson St.) 212/ 239-6200
web site
Tue - Sat @7:30PM, Sat & Sun @2PM--$55.
4/02/02-4/28/02; opening 4/07/09
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 6 press preview.
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