Tony Kushner, most famous for Angels In America, is our most politically engaged major playwright. He is unafraid to paint on a wide historical canvas, showing us characters whose lives are intimately connected with their politics. What other American playwright will get at our emotions with a group of characters singing The Internationale? Who else treats recent and present history as essential to our personal lives? Everything he does is refreshing. It may be that, here in San Francisco, we are in the midst of a reawakening of the importance of history and politics in the theatre. (I hope so!) If we are, CustomMade Theatre Company is one of those groups who are leading the way. They continue to do so with their revival of Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day.
The plot is shaggy, more a slice of life than a clearly developing story. The audience eavesdrops on the activities in a Berlin apartment in the 1930s, and, as counterpoint, in the 1980s. The folk in the apartment are responding to the political winds blowing about them: the rise of Hitler in the 30’s, the rise of Reagan in the 80s.
As the Nazi horror grows, it seems impossible to believe. But it is really happening. The implication is clear: it could happen again. What matters is that we be alert and responsive and unafraid to feel deeply when we see something horrible. Denial is deadly. Nobody who cares deeply about the world can afford to be indifferent.
Kushner has painted an emotional portrait of a “complicated, confusing and desperate moment in time”, says director Brian Katz in his program note. We are not looking at the events, but experiencing what it feels like to be there, emotionally. As one character observes, “I am NOT a camera” (referencing Christopher Isherwood‘s famous line “I am a camera…” which begins his take on the same historical period, The Berlin Stories).
What is he after? Katz again: “He wants us to recognize ourselves.” We, too, are not cameras, not machines. We are effected by our national politics, by the actions and inactions of our government, by the potential rise of fascism or other political horrors in our own country. We too, find it difficult to grasp what is really going on. Is the danger real? Are the fanatics really coming to power? Will things work themselves out? How do we really feel about our political world? What does it mean to care? What is the role of the artist? Question after question is raised, but none are answered.
All this may sound polemical and dull, but this is Tony Kushner, and dull he isn’t. This collection of passionate artists, activists, lovers are never dull and the snapshots of their personal lives played out against history engage us emotionally for the entire evening (nearly three hours worth).
Director Katz, effectively incorporating video and projected titles for each scene, makes sure that the pace is varied and the actors engaged in every moment. The first rate company takes the audience on a wild emotional ride, full of highs and lows, passion and intellect.
A Bright Room Called Day continues through April 8. For further information click here.
“A Bright Room Called Day” by Tony Kushner, produced by CustomMade Theatre Company. Director: Brian Katz. Set: Marci Ring. Costumes: Scarlett Kellum. Lights: Andrea Schwartz. Sound: Brendan Annes. Video and Puppet Design: Maxx Kurzunski. Fight Choreographer: Jon Bailey
Agnes Eggling: Xanadu Bruggers. Zilah Katz: Maggie Ballard. Paulinka: Megan Briggs. Gotchling: Jessica Jade Rudholm. Baz: Chris Morrell. Husz: David Vega. Die Alte: Shelley Lynn Johnson. Rolland/Taum: Nick Trengove. Malek: Vahishta Vafadari. Her Swetts: Steve Budd.
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