By David Walters

Spain is a technically precise, tightly constructed, and a sharply designed vision for the eyes. The scenes pop along, spinning in and fading out as if you were looking through a limited-view pinhole and just so happened to turn in that particular direction. It’s a curiosity of the senses but leaving nothing for the soul.

Taking place in New York City’s West Village and lifting a chapter directly from filmmaker Joris Ivens‘ long and storied life of making documentary films, it covers the period when he was working for the Russians, “the Office of the Branch of International Cultural Socialist Whatever Whatever,” (which would later become the KGB) and who paid for him to make the film The Spanish Earth in 1937 with Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos. During the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, the Russians, who sided with the communists and had boots on the ground in Spain, hired Joris to make a propaganda film for them that would win the hearts and minds of the Americans and get them to send money and perhaps break their policy of non-intervention in that war. “But You Can’t Mention Russians. No Russians. Nobody Can Even Think About Russians. If There Are Russians In Spain, They’re Just Visiting.”

Knowing full well who was handling the purse strings, Joris only hesitated momentarily as he was being allowed to make a long film, something he was not able to do for years and years, and knew, despite the subject matter, he could make art out of it.

The theme of “art will never die” is a thread, and only a thread, that runs through the piece and is played out to its frayed end in the last scene that takes a magical jump to the present day with the same players, in their same roles, but now talking about the internet and linking the internet of today with propaganda films of the past.

Covered in a blanket of film noir, the intriguing set by Dane Laffrey, assisted by the lighting sleight-of-hand of Jen Schriever, was full of surprises and great visuals with a continually active turntable, shadow scenes of dark figures cutting steak tucked behind partitions, alleys and walkways of light, and secret doors and windows that produced menace when revealed. The set was completely watchable, as well as sound design and original music by Daniel Kluger that forcefully guided the production from scene to scene.

Playwright Jen Silverman does not mean for Spain to be a historical play and she has succeded in that. The last scene in the play takes the audience beyond the facts into magical realism. The wonderful and menacing theatricality imposed on the script hides the fact that it is there as a cover-up, hiding that there is nothing of substance in the play itself, only hints of something more meaningful, just don’t look too hard. There’s an ominous feeling in the set and lighting design that anyone could be killed at a moment’s notice, we almost wish someone was as it would ironically add some life to the play.

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Spain by Jen Silverman, directed by Tyne Rafaeli through December 17, 2023 at Second Stage‘s Tony Kiser Theater.

Starring Andrew Burnap, Marin Ireland, Zachary James, Erik Lochtefeld, and Danny Wolohan

Scenic design by Dane Laffrey; Costume design by Alejo Vietti; Lighting design by Jen Schriever; and Sound design and original music by Daniel Kluger.

Running time: approximately 90 minutes