By Constance Rodgers
Brecht: Call and Respond, (an evening of three one-acts), is the first in a series of up-coming works by New Light Theater Project. The series was conceived with the intent to breathe new life into classic works by commissioning contemporary playwrights to write plays inspired by, in response to, or rebelling against the classic work selected. For, Brecht: Call and Respond the classic is The Jewish Wife by Bertolt Brecht. All three one-acts are directed, with very specific and detailed attention to the acting, by Jerry Heymann.
The first one-act, The Jewish Wife by Bertolt Brecht, and the last one-act, Self Help in the Anthropocene by Kristin Idaszak, are soliloquies until the very end of each piece, and they are both acted with passion and intelligence by, respectively, Susan Lynskey (Wife) and Lucy Lavely (Joy).
In The Jewish Wife Lynskey’s performance is quietly pained as the German Jewish wife of a German doctor (Michael Aguirre also Producing Director of New Light Theater) in the early days of Nazi Germany. The wife is very simply packing to leave Germany and her husband. With tenderness she empties drawers, as she is exiting her life as a German and a wife. We don’t really know where she is going, though she says Amsterdam, but we know she will never return. Husband and wife both tentatively pretend that she is leaving only for awhile, until this whole thing blows over. However, they know, but can’t bare to say out loud, that when blind hate like this enters a world it does not leave quickly or without damage. Brecht, of course, shows us the evil the world perpetrates on the everyday lives of ordinary people, and how easily good people become tainted by the poison others preach. The wife, the object of the hate, is leaving to protect herself. Not so much physically as emotionally. We sense she wants to preserve a little bit of the love she had for her husband, who has started to exhibit signs of believing she is less than him, and a little bit of the love she had for Germany, who already believes she is less than human.
In Self Help in the Anthropocene Lavely’s performance is dynamic and funny. Joy, in preparation for a party, is self critically tidying up in the way of Marie Kondo. While she examines each object we learn about her life views and that of her wife. Each self-reflection becomes an indictment of our rampant consumerism as a whole and individually. I know I felt guilty, though I laughed at Joy and myself also. We learn that the time is a dystopian future, and the tidying is not really an effort to bring calm to the couples home, but to make sense of a world gone mad. A world making islands out of our multitudinous garbage and using them to place chosen people on for their own protection. Ghettos, where one goes to live happily ever after. We hope.
The middle one-act, Sunset Point by Arlene Hutton, is a more direct interpretation of Brecht’s The Jewish Wife. Set in the present it is a story of a Jewish woman, Rachel (Lindsay Brill) and a Goy (non-Jewish) man, Henson (Gerry Bamman) who are recently engaged. With compassion Brill and Bamman take us from an excited to see each other touchy feely couple to a shocked, disappointed and distanced couple breaking up. Henson is buying a house in a planned community that does not except Jews. It is his long lost family home, just come on the market again. When Rachel is upset by this he doesn’t understand why she can’t just go along with something so important to him. Henson can’t see or doesn’t care how this act hurts and insults her. Rachel is appalled that Henson could even consider living in a deliberately segregated, bigoted community. That it is his legacy does not, as he would like, make it more understandable to Rachel. In fact it makes it less understandable and totally unacceptable.
Brecht: Call and Respond reminds us that the world changes, but not enough, and maybe for the worse.
The one room set for all three pieces worked well. I felt no need for a completely different set for each play. The costumes for the The Jewish Wife were wonderfully right for the times, not only what the wife was wearing but what she was packing, and for Self Help in the Anthropocene, futuristic without being comical.
Brecht: Call and Respond, (an evening of three one-acts), Directed by Jerry Heymann; Featuring: The Jewish Wife by Bertolt Brecht, Self Help in the Anthropocene by Kristin Idaszak and Sunset Point by Arlene Hutton
Cast: Michael Aguirre (Husband), Gerry Bamman (Henson), Lindsay Brill (Rachel), Susan Lynskey (Wife), Lucy Lavely (Joy)
New Light Theater Project Artistic Director Sarah Norris and Producing Director Michael Aguirre, Scenic and Prop Design Jessica Parks; Costume Design Kara Branch; Lighting Design Keegan Butler; Sound Design The Roly Polys; Stage Manager Caitlyn Annelise Dominguez
The Paradise Factory 64 East 4th Street through February 15; Performances Wednesday-Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2 pm & 7:30 pm, Sunday at 3 pm, with an added performance on Tue 2/11 at 7:30pm. 85 mins no intermission. Tickets $25. To purchase tickets www.newlighttheaterproject.com