Isaac Woofter and Emma Rosenthal in a scene from Night
(Photo credit: Jacob J. Goldberg)
Marvell Rep’s winter 2013 season called “Desire & Delusion” is devoted to three stories set in fin-de-siècle Vienna performed in rotating repertory, traveling from the consulting rooms of early psychiatry in Secrets: The Untold Story of Sigmund Freud & Carl Jung to the drawing rooms of Arthur Schnitzler’s Flirtation (Leibelei). First up is the world premiere of Night Games, adapted and directed by Lenny Leibowitz from Spiel im Morgengrauen, the 1926 novella by Arthur Schnitzler.
Leibowitz’s adaptation of Night Games sticks slavishly to the original with the deletion of one party scene and the addition of one of the early interior monologues turned into a dialogue later in the play. What he has mainly done is lifted the dialogue from a translation of the novella. What might have worked well has been undercut by the bland and vague characterization of Isaac Woofter as the hero Lieutenant Willi Kasda who is on stage throughout the play except for one brief scene. Woofter’s inadequate interpretation fails to portray Willi as both arrogant and careless in his dealing with other people. The second act is redeemed, however, by the elegant acting of Kevin Gilmartin as Willi’s Uncle Robert and Emma Rosenthal’s nuanced and subtle performance as Leopoldine, one of the castoff lovers from whom Willi now needs a favor.
Typical of Schnitzler’s exposés of Imperial Viennese society, Night Games is the story of an overconfident and unthinking young army officer, Lt. Willi Kasda, who down to his last 120 gulden, is asked by a former officer and comrade, the cashiered Otto von Bogner, for a loan of 1,000 gulden to save his honor. Kasha, on the way to the nearby resort of Baden to join friends for lunch and later cards, offers to gamble for the money. Playing cards with a motley crew made up of an actor, the regimental doctor, an officer on sick leave, a theater manager and a consul, Kasda is at first winning big sums and then loses more than he would earn in several years. Knowing his honor requires that he must pay back the debt in 24 hours, Kasda approaches his uncle whom he has not seen in two years. When it turns out his uncle no longer has any money, he must approach a former castoff mistress who has now become very rich.
Schnitzler’s original gains a hallucinatory speed and rhythm as Willi is first carried away with gambling fever and then makes a concerted effort to obtain the money as time is running out. At two hours and 36 minutes, Leibowitz’s stage version is not only too long but too languid and studied in its pacing. While the prose description of the all-night card game is considered one of the great set pieces in literature on gaming, the enacting of the scene (but without Willi’s interior monologue as to his reaction to what is happening to him) is both boring and uneventful. Gilmartin (as theater manager Weiss), George Michael Kennedy, Drake Nester, Angus Hepburn and Jeremy Smith as the other gamblers are given so little to do and say that their presence is negligible. We the audience do not get the sense that Willi is in a delirium as he gambles away his future and his honor. As Consul Schnabel, John Windsor-Cunningham does not have a handle on his character to give us any idea of Willi’s nemesis, even though we get to see them alone together in the long carriage ride back to Vienna.
However, the second act is mainly made up of Willi’s confrontations with his Uncle Robert and ex-mistress Leopoldine in attempting to gain a loan, and these scenes play much better, both as they are more fully developed and as the additional actors bring a great deal to the drama. Gilmartin’s nuanced performance as the brother of Willi’s late mother reveals much more than he actually says, and he makes it possible to read between the lines. Rosenthal is magnificent as the girl who has grown up into a refined and witty young woman who makes everything she says seem to say at least two things at once. Both Gilmartin and Rosenthal make the subtext speak loud and clear. Unfortunately, Willi’s interior monologues in which he realizes the error of his ways are missing since Leibowitz has not found a way to incorporate them and so the new play fails to convey the story’s original message.
Due to the cinematic nature of the story, Kenichi Takahashi’s design requires seven set changes all of which slow down the play. Jennifer Raskopf’s costumes are redolent of the period without drawing attention to themselves. The weakest part of the design is Nicholas Houfek’s lighting which fails to create any atmosphere or delineate the passage of time, necessary as Willi remains up all through the night, returning home at dawn. Neither the hallucinogenic mood nor the sense of delirium are conveyed by Ann Warren’s sound design which could have also added to the locations and the milieu. Surprisingly, the café and coach scenes are accompanied by no sound effects which would have created atmosphere.
An interesting attempt to create a new Arthur Schnitzler play, Lenny Leibowitz’s Night Games proves to be both too cinematic and too much an interior monologue to make the successful transition to the stage. Emma Rosenthal and Kevin Gilmartin, however, are fascinating actors to watch.
Night Games (through March 6, 2013) (performed in rotating repertory February 8 – March 17, with Secrets: The Untold Story of Sigmund Freud & Carl Jung and Arthur Schnitzler’s Flirtation, a translation of Leibelei)
Marvell Rep at TBG Theatre, 312 W. 36th Street, 3rd Floor, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.marvellrep.com
Running time: two hours and 36 minutes