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Review: WALKING TO BUCHENWALD - A Walk Definitely Worth Taking

WALKING TO BUCHENWALD/by Tom Jacobson/directed by Roderick Menzies/Atwater Village Theatre/thru October 21, 2017

The world premiere of playwright Tom Jacobson's WALKING TO BUCHENWALD receives a sturdy outing from Open Fist with the ensemble's strong performances of his three-dimensional characters steered firm-handedly by Roderick Menzies.

Schiller wants to take her parents to Europe where they've never been. Schiller's dad Roger's more than willing, but Mildred, the mom, resists. Apparently, Schiller's lover Arjay succeeds in convincing Mildred to join the three of them. Once in London, then Paris, then Weimar, Germany near the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp; this American foursome learn how less-than-welcomed their presence is received. Comparisons between the German occupation and the Europeans' perception of the current political state of the U.S. pepper the punch lines and involving character developments.

Laura James and Ben Martin seamlessly portray Schiller's parents Mildred and Roger and their respective character metamorphoses. James' Mildred begins as a complaining, former grade school teacher set in her ways. But once in Europe, she blossoms into a most assured and vibrant purveyor of life. James twinkles in Mildred's moments of pure joy. James' entire body posturing changes when she's worrying over/caring for Roger. Martin's Roger still has that zest for life. As a former theatre director, Roger spouts out Jacobson's most meta lines on the theatre scene. Too, too funny! As the one with German ancestry, Martin's Roger transparently reveals his very mixed feelings on actually visiting the Buchenwald concentration camp. (One of the best lines Jacobson's written in this has 'Disneyland' and 'concentration camp' in the same sentence. Sooo wrong, yet so ironically funny!) Wonderful long, familiar, lived-in relationship feel between James' Mildred and Martin's Roger.

Mandy Schneider strongly essays Schiller as an unsympathetic, take charge Type-A - stuck to her own pre-set, precisely timed itinerary, oblivious to her parents or lover's wants or preferences. Schiller keeps repeating this European trip's for her parents, but continues scheduling mainly museum visits which she favors, instead of sightseeing where her parents vainly suggest. Somehow forcing/tricking her father to visit the concentration camp against his wishes does not earn any sympathies from the viewing audience.

Amielynn Abellera effectively revels in her role of the amiable, much more spontaneous Arjay, always supportive of Schiller's whims. (Abellera also commanded the stage in her solo role in Jacobson's earlier CAPTAIN OF THE BIBLE QUIZ TEAM.)

The roles of Schiller and Arjay have been double cast with Schneider and Abellera alternating with Christopher Cappiello as Schiller and Justin Huen as Arjay.

Not one word of Jacobson's script needs to be changed in dealing with/talking about the same-sex couples. Mildred's vivid recollection to Arjay of a bad date Schiller brought home's impeccably written sans pronouns. Amazing!

Will Bradley effortlessly plays a number of integral supporting roles differentiating them all with different foreign accents and distinct body language. Sometimes most charming (British tourist at the Darwin Centre) or dryly funny (French waiter) or most scary (German truck driver) or very exposed (a talking corpse in the Body Worlds Exhibition), with other characters sharply communicating important plot threads. (Bradley previously wowed as the tortured, struggling auteur Conrad in STUPID f-ing BIRD.)
Kudos to Richard Hoover's scenic design of large empty museum display cases with only moveable folding chairs serving as car seats, a truck, train benches and restaurant chairs, and more.

This is one WALK you won't soon forget.

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