BWW Review: Agape Theatre's BONHOEFFER'S COST Sheds Light in The Shadows
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is better known in theological circles than theatrical ones, though his story is indeed a powerfully dramatic one. A German theologian and minister in Nazi Germany during World War II, Bonhoeffer is the author of many theological studies including his modern classic, "The Cost of Discipleship." Imprinting his spiritual principles in to the extraordinary day to day circumstances of living in Nazi German, Bonhoeffer is as importantly remembered as one of the architects of an attempt to overthrow the Nazi regime. BONHOEFFER'S COST by Mary RutH Clarke with Tim Gregory, is the story of his imprisonment for this transgression.
As a historical drama BONHOEFFER'S COST is an important work. Bonhoeffer was an early opponent of Nazi Germany, he publicly criticized Hitler, and at the insistence of his brother Hans, joined the German military intelligence organization, the Abwehr. It is for this that Bonhoeffer unsurprisingly finds himself in prison where the play is set. His intellect is as sharp as his faith, and the play gives focus to the unfoldment of his trial and eventual death, rather than exclusively Bonhoeffer's ministry and faith.
Playwright Mary RutH Clarke strongly points out that this is a work of fiction based on people who actually lived, therefore, actors in any production of this show are thankfully able to create a character of their own rather than a biographical impersonation. In this regard, Cory Grabenstein gives Bonhoeffer an appropriate intensity and a certain nerdish endearing charm. He shows us Bonhoeffer as an intellectual with a deep commitment to justice. He's compassionate too, even with his mortal enemies Judge Advocate Rott, played with appropriate menace by Frank Benge, and his guard Klopstock played by Keoni Ramo. Benge has a presence when he's not wearing a Nazi office uniform, and in this production, while wearing one he does a great job of letting Rott do the work, using power instead of force as a tool for interrogating Bonhoeffer. Ramo gives Klopstock, Bonhoeffer's closest cell guard and occasional smoke buddy, a cute, bumbling sort of charm. That said, during the performance I attended, Ramo was harder to understand than the rest of the actors. Additionally, as a contrast to the development of their relationship, I would have preferred a more aggressive Klopstock than Ramo chose. Rebecca Rosenberg gives us an earnest Maria whose chemistry works well with Grabenstein. Zach Bond (Maetz/Klaus Bonhoeffer) and TJ Condit (Hans Von Dohnanyi) round out the cast, both with a strong presence in the few scenes in which they're on the stage.
And the stage in this case is the sanctuary and altar of the Palm Valley Lutheran Church in Round Rock. It is a beautiful 120 year old sanctuary is of an age similar to Bonhoeffer's. It's in this way that the play resonates - a Lutheran minister and his cause here played out in a Lutheran church built in Texas a decade or so after his birth in Poland. It makes a certain kind of synchronous sense, especially since the play is about such a major influence on theology as Bonhoeffer. This is most relevant in the scenes in which Bonhoeffer gives beautiful and socially just sermons throughout the play. This choice also unfortunately works against the show, as for the most part, it is set in prison - and the peaceful sanctuary makes it that much more difficult to appreciate the bleak landscape and prison in which Bonhoeffer is trapped.
My quibbles aside, BONHOEFFER'S COST is a courageous show for Agape Theatre to produce. It is flawed in that it could stand to be shorter and some of the script could also be tightened up. However, it should be viewed for its historical content, especially in our current political climate. It's a powerful study in standing by principle at a time when it was most needed. We can all take value in understanding what it means to care for those of us who are different.
Agape Theatre Company
Directed by Jeff Davis
May 11th- 21st
Palm Valley Lutheran Church, Round Rock
Running Time 2:05 with a fifteen minute intermission