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A CurtainUp ReviewA Bright Room Called Day
Apparently based on Bertolt Brecht's 1938 work The Private Life of the Master Race , Kushner put his own dramatic scholarship to work with his own set of characters whose personal, political and social lives come under scrutiny. Brechtian to the core, the script has been updated to find corollaries, analogies and other such incriminating links to give us pause as we approach 2020...and also unquestionably calculated to refresh his original theme.
About the fall of the Weimar Republic and much more, the play is set in a modestly furnished Berlin apartment between 1932 and 1933. Designer David Rockwell uses a despairingly grey palette but makes the setting amenable to some stunning special effects with help of lighting designer John Torres.
In it are an actress Agnes (Nikki M. James) and a group of diversely political friends, all of whom seem to be working in various parts of the German film industry. They are suddenly, in various ways, outlawed in the new order. The question for them is whether to run away or try to survive within the changing political and social climate.
Agnes is the most emotionally torn as she is confronted by both the growing authoritarianism of her Communist friends and the evil that was to manifest itself as the National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazi's).
Kushner is no fool for spacing his play between the twilight of the Weimar government and the emergence of the Third Reich. It was as much a time of horrific change as an indisputable theatrical arena. It is, however, unclear whether by design or carelessness that Kushner makes his principal characters play second fiddle to the historic events. It should be noted, however, that a ghost and the devil himself are no second fiddles but rather major players.
The devil is introduced as Gottfried Swetts and is played with effective B-movie unctuousness by Mark Margolis. He is summoned and arrives over a bridge of hellfire and brimstone through the front door by Agnes's lover (Michael Esper), a loquacious bore who learned how to summon the devil somewhere back in the Carpathian mountains. The devil is accompanied by a fearsome large dog (a statue) with glowing red eyes (possibly on loan from the entrance of the nearby Chinese restaurant.)
The always great Estelle Parson plays the ghostly Die Alte, presumably Agnes's alter ego, and as such gets to show us a particularly wretched and depressing vision of Agnes in the future. Things are getting worse by the day. We know this from the political news data projected on a screen. There is no weak link in the superlative cast that includes Linda Emond as Annabella, the wonderfully intense Communist leader; Michael Urie as the charmingly gay and brittle Gregor; Grace Gummer as Paulinka, the self-centered actress who believes that "psychoanalysis makes more sense than Communism".
Into their midst comes two characters from the future: Zillah (Crystal Lucas -Perry) and Xillah (Jonathan Hadary) who invade the play, stopping it in its tracks. They have plenty to say to each other as well as directly to us -- and it's far from subtle -- about the cruelty of the Reagan administration. Xillah calls it "Talmudic footnoting". I must admit thinking that if Xillah was a vaudevillian, he would have been given the hook about halfway during one of his scalding diatribes. The best line of the evening was spoken by my companion. "Xillah used too many polysyllabic overly hyphenated words".
As outraged by the past as he is by the future, Xillah appears on the edge of sheer hysteria as he professes to be the playwright here to re-address what went on in 1932 and also to rebuke the policies promoted by President Reagan. Xillah's and Zillah's protracted, satirically-inclined rants are presumably meant to connect the dots between all the then(s) and all the now (s).
Director Eustis can certainly be lauded for guiding some very fine actors through this very long, very talky, very unsettling play that asks the question: Are we letting our defenses down yet again? More importantly, we may ask what offenses of ours have brought us to where we are today. However this provocative play has been refreshed, revived, renewed, revisited or revised, A Bright Room Called Day remains political theater at its most infuriating and most intentionally enflaming.
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A Bright Room Called Day By Tony Kushner Directed by Oskar Eustis
Cast: Linda Emond (Annabela Totchling), Grace Gummer (Paulinka Erdnuss), Michael Esper (Vealtnine Husz), Michael Urie (Gregor Bazwald), Nikki M. James (Agnes Eggling), Crystal Lucas-Perry (Zillah), Jonathan Hadary (Xillah), Estelle Parsons (Die Alte), Nadine Malouf (Rosa Malek), Max Woertendyke (Emil Traum), Mark Margolis (Gottfried Swetts)
Scenic Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty and Sarita Fellows
Lighting Design: John Torres
Sound Design: Bray Poor
Projection Design: Lucy Mackinnon
Hair Wig and Makeup Design: Tom Watson
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Production Stage Manager: Buzz Cohen
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes including intermission
Public's Anspacher Theater, 425 Lafayette Street.
(212) - 967 - 7555
Tickets from $75.00 by visiting publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater
Performances: Tuesday through Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (There is an additional performance at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 27. There is no 1:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, December 8.There is no 7:00 p.m. performance on Thursday, November 28.)
From 10/29/19 Opened 11/25/19 Ends 12/22/19
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/23/19
A Bright Room Called Da by Tony Kushner
Directed by Oskar Eustis.
Cast: Linda Emond (Annabella Gotchling), Michael Esper (Vealtninc Husz), Grace Gummer (Paulinka Erdnuss), Jonathan Hadary (Xillah), Nikki M. James (Agnes Eggling), Crystal Lucas-Perry (Zillah), Nadine Malouf (Rosa Malek), Mark Margoli
From 10/29/19; opening 11/19/19; closing 12/08/19.
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