By Brittany Crowell
Camp Siegfried was opened in the 1930s in Long Island and operated each summer through 1941 when it was shut down due to Germany officially declaring war on the US. Second Stage recently launched its production of Camp Siegfried, a play by Bess Wohl taking place at the camp, and following the journey of a young man and woman in attendance there during the summer of 1938.
While Wohl’s piece doesn’t shy away from the disturbing rhetoric of the German fascist regime, it softens the blow with the naivete coming from the mouths of babes, who are searching for a sense of belonging and worth, bringing home the message “never underestimate one’s capacity for delusion.”
Wohl’s characters are easy to relate to for very different reasons: HE is the “runt” of his family, always looking to prove himself, and turning to machismo, strength, and violence to do so; SHE is incredibly timid, shying away from any social engagements and struggling with her assigned physical labor. Both find solace and community at Camp Siegfried and a means of escaping from their lives and who they are, until she is met with a rude awakening bringing her sharply back to reality (and the audience along with her). As the audience watches along, we realize how easy we find it to follow these characters on their journey, but how dangerous and lethal a journey it could be.
The piece could not have been more perfectly cast with the youthful energy and bravado of Johnny Berchtold and the endearing awkwardness from a bashful Lily McInery. The two young actors, both making their New York theater debuts, have amazing chemistry onstage (showcasing how opposites attract) and honestly and subtly see through their characters growth as summer fades into fall.
Scenic design by Brett J. Banakis creates a small corner of the camp which transforms seamlessly into a campfire, a grassy hillside, a pathway, a dock on the lake, and a boardwalk on the beach. Hanging branches bring the audience into the space and work wonderfully with lighting by Tyler Micoleau to cast leafy shadows on the back wall indicating day and dusk. Brenda Abbandandolo’s costume design encapsulates 1938 youth while hinting at what is in the years to come, and sound design by Christopher Darbassie fills out the rest of the camp by populating the soundscape with voices laughing, speaking, and cheering from afar.
With the radicalization of today’s political conversations and the spread of misinformation through various websites and social media, this piece hits closer to home than some may wish to believe. We live in a world where delusion is rampant and open discussion is becoming more and more rare. People are looking for someone to blame and for a community where they can feel heard and find strength, and are seeking this in a myriad of places – some safe, some harmful. Camp Siegfried is a quiet reminder of the dangers that this can bring, and asks us to step out of ourselves for a moment to truly explore how we are being treated and what we are investing in.
Camp Siegfried runs through December 4 at Second Stage – don’t miss this poignant and presently important piece!
CAMP SIEGFRIED –
by Bess Wohl, directed by David Cromer
FEATURING – Johnny Berchtold (He); & Lily McInerny (She)
Sets by Brett J. Banakis; costumes by Brenda Abbandandolo; lighting by Tyler Micoleau; sound by Christopher Darbassie; dramaturgy by Emily Shooltz; vocal coaching by Gigi Buffington. Presented by 2nd Stage Theater: Carole Rothman, president and artistic director; Khady Kamara, executive director. Run time: 80 minutes, no intermission. 212-541-4516.