This week in Theater
Written by Tony Kushner
Review by Rose Desena
“A Bright Room Called Day” written by Tony Kushner (Angels in America) originally compared the politics of the Reagan Administration to Hitler’s politics of the Third Reich, but oddly and hauntingly, Jermey Lelliott’s (Director) updated version might be speaking about today. This complicated body of work is not only a historical adventure but also a bleak look at humanity and its weakness.
The play was written as a series of monologues that were meant to coincide with current political trends. Kushner explores the question of denial and passiveness in the face of genocide and the resentment towards change, even if it means saving one’s self. It’s a brutal look at a country that is in turmoil and it’s pretty scary.
Lelliott should be praised for taking this production on and having the creative talent to add his own footprint. With artistic license from Kushner, he infuses dance and music as an intermezzo to the stark dialog. The stage set is fantastic with scenes and graphics of Germany (by the way the stage set alone is worth seeing as it is a powerful reproduction of Stalin-era poster art) and for us history illiterates, projected messages run along the back wall to annotate the place, time, and events.
Its 1932 and Germany is in violent social upheaval with hyper-inflation, high unemployment, and angery political groups. As unemployment rises to new heights, Germany sits at the crossroads of chaos and order, as Adolph Hitler comes to power and promises the latter.
The set is a modern apartment in Berlin. Agnes (Teya Patt) and her friends who are all artists are having a passionate conversation about the Communist movement. With Adolph Hitler on the rise, little do they know their ideals for a better Germany will be shattered and changed forever?
In the first, act we get familiar with the characters, and it was easy to find them interesting. I felt like I was taking a look at my own college days in the early 70’s. I lived with artists and argued ecstatically about art, film and of course the government. Each of the characters is an individual and very much someone we can relate to. All have eccentricities and energy that one embraces in their late 20’s.
Agnes, the play’s central figure, is unaffected by the issues of postwar Germany. She has income from acting and lives in an apartment that she loves with plenty of Vodka and bread, she seems blind to the realities of what is happening around her. I kept thinking to myself: Is Agnes like so many Americans, living behind their gated communities, driving nice cars and gorging on designer food?
Baz (Graham Kurtz) is a flamboyant gay male who captures the cliché of the gay population before AIDS. He is an important character for Kushner who uses him as a symbol for persecution and resembles a key character from Angels in America; Hitler not only imprisoned Jews but many others who were considered different.
Artist, poets, intellectuals and gays were all victims of his insanity. Nicole Monet is adorable as the narcissistic actress who would fit right into Los Angeles’ la la land persona as she flips her political alliances according to who hires her to perform.
Husz (Miles Warner) is Agnes’s lover, a Trotskyite, he’s a confused unhappy intellectual who vomits over his own ideas as if he is the God of the spoken word. He can’t seem to find the right place for his art as a film maker. I have to congratulate him on his accent which he managed to hold onto through the performance. Erin Anderson is a revolutionary artist committed to her beliefs; she spends time painting posters for the Communist movement.
The second act takes a darker turn and moves us into bleakness as Germany heats up, and Hitler takes power. Agnes belts out a stunning rendition of “Mack the Knife” that lets the audience know there will be some major dramatic changes.
Her friend Baz is now painfully aware that his future as a gay man in Germany is running on empty. He tells his friends a story about a missed opportunity to kill Hitler as he sat in a dark movie theater that is shocking not only to Agnes but to me.
I sat there is stunned at the thought, if only he used that gun. Why did he freeze and not shoot? He would have changed history and saved millions of lives and quite possibly the lives of his friends as well as his own. He knows he can’t stay and talks about his plan to get out of dodge before he is hauled off to a camp.
Agnes, now being slowly abandoned by those who have the sense and the guts to run, refuses to leave the comfortable life she now has for the unknown of a German exile. Hunted by a ghost, who is trying to warn her of her future, she becomes more resistant and confused. Even a visit from the Devil himself who claims he has temporarily taken up residency in Germany fails to convince her that evil will prevail. She is blind to her denial and holds on to it as if it’s a crying child. Somehow she feels she is special with some protecting force, if she stays quiet and just closes her eyes she will be left alone. Oh, if that were only true!
The Dance numbers were beautiful and had a marionette like quality. It’s interesting that the Chorographer ( Carly Wieistein) would choose those controlled methodical movements perhaps depicting manipulation. The music gives the audience a good break from the dialog, which does get a little monotonous but none of the dialog is without purpose. Gregory Nabours selected some great tunes; the songs were expertly placed and added an element that allowed for further understanding of the script.
It didn’t hit me at first, but as I sat thinking about it on the way home, the play took on new meaning. Is this what is happening in America today? Have we shut our eyes and quieted our thoughts with the belief it will all be ok?
If you see this, and I think you should, please send me your comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Writer: Tony Kushner
Director: Jeremy Lelliott
Cast: Erin Anderson, Laura Crow, James Ferrero, Kate Grabau, Mark Jacobson, Connor Kelly-Elding, Gram, Kurtz, Abigail Marks, Jeffery Masters, Nicole Monet, Teya Patt, Kyle David Pierce, Kim Reed, Bert Rotundo, Deven Simonson, Joey Nicole Thomas, Miles Warner.
Runs through Sept 15th, Friday & Saturday @ 8:00pm and Sunday 7:30.
Coeurage Theatre Company
“A Pay What You Want Experience”
The Lost Studio
130 La Brea, LA, CA 90036
Photos: Kevin McShane