“Producing theatrical works that feature compelling stories created by emerging theater artists” is from the New Light Theater Project’s self-description. Their vastly and thoughtfully entertaining presentation, Brecht: Call and Respond (an evening of three one-acts) achieves that aim. Bertolt Brecht may not be an emerging theater artist, but the other two playwrights certainly are.
Premiering in Paris, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich was Brecht’s 1938 major anti-Nazi work topically depicting life in Germany. It’s comprised of 24 playlets including perhaps the best known, The Jewish Wife which is performed here in Eric Bentley’s translation. Judith is a Jewish woman married to an Aryan scientist. She’s packing a suitcase for her departure to Amsterdam to save her husband and his career from the repercussions of the Nazis’ racial laws as well as saving herself. It’s an engrossing combination of her phone calls to friends and relatives, her spoken thoughts and a confrontation with her sympathetic yet pragmatic husband. In a taut 25 minutes Brecht gives a chilling snapshot of existence under that oppressive regime with prescient hints of the impending world war and of The Holocaust.
The sleek, alluring and pointedly soft spoken Susan Lynskey is mesmerizing as the titular character. Purposefully folding clothes, wistfully staring at a photograph and meticulously dialing a telephone are among the vivid physical details of Ms. Lynskey’s towering performance. In his brief appearance as the forlorn husband, Michael Aguirre makes a haunting impression with his aching vocal directness and everyman persona.
Life among the contemporary literati is the subject of Arlene Hutton’s wry 20 minute miniature masterwork, Sunset Point. Ms. Hutton’s command of characters, plot and dialogue is so accomplished that it is tantalizing to imagine it as a full-length play. An aged, acclaimed and blocked New York City novelist is back home from a round-trip flight to yet another far off writers’ conference. He surprises his younger poet fiancé girlfriend of two years with his purchase of a house in an exclusive Upstate New York enclave. She’s skittish about relocating there as she’s Jewish.
New York City stage stalwart Gerry Bamman brings his customary grand depth to the role of the writer. Breezily conveying weariness, randiness and angst, Mr. Bamman is utterly captivating. The feisty and spirited Lindsay Brill is an ideal romantic and philosophical foil to Bamman as the poet.
Vaguely dystopian is Kristin Idaszak’s engaging queasy take on a totalitarian society, the 30 minute Self Help in the Anthropocene. As it’s mostly a monologue, performer Lucy Lavely’s forceful comedic and dramatic talents are showcased as one half of a same-sex female couple cleaning house before an evening party. Fondling one silly object after another while offering biting commentary, Ms. Lavely is initially hilarious as she enacts Ms. Idaszak’s gradually harrowing scenario.
Director Jerry Heymann’s artfully straightforward staging realizes each of the piece’s distinctive tones. Jessica Parks’ adept scenic and props design has a pleasing living room setting that with minor and rapid alteration inventively serves as differing locales for each play. Lighting designer Keegan Butler’s subtle efforts match the stories’ varying moods. The Roly Polys’ steady sound design chiefly renders music for the transitions between the plays. Kara Branch’s fine costume design relies on well-chosen everyday clothes.
With its diverse and substantive material, Brecht: Call and Respond (an evening of three one-acts) is a stimulating theatrical event.
Brecht: Call and Respond (an evening of three one-acts) (through February 15, 2020)
New Light Theater Project’s Spotlight Series
The Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 630-632-1459 or visit http://www.newlighttheaterproject.com
Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission