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BWW Review: DESCRIBE THE NIGHT at The Wilma Theatre

BWW Review: DESCRIBE THE NIGHT at The Wilma Theatre
Photo by Johanna Austin

Once night rolls around, how do you distinguish between shadows and what's real? Who determines the truth?

The Wilma Theater's Describe the Night, directed by Blanka Zizka, invites the audience to question the world around them by telling a story about Russia's loose relationship with the truth. The play, written by Rajiv Joseph, jumps between three time periods: World War II era Germany, Poland and Russia, Cold War Russia and Moscow in 2010, as Vladimir Putin rose to absolute power. It follows writer Isaac Babel and military man Nikolai's friendship as they try to determine the difference between true and fake. Nikolai eventually becomes a record-keeper for the Russian government, where he edits official files using a black magic marker. Here, he meets Vova, who we understand to be Putin before he became a household name.

What is exceedingly special about the Wilma's production is that all storytelling elements work together in perfect harmony to create a visually stunning, entertaining and thought-provoking production.

The show opens on a upper-level stage designed (by Matt Saunders) and lit (by Thom Weaver) to look like a forest at dusk. This is where Isaac and Nikolai meet, but throughout the production becomes a mystical fairytale setting for events that may or may not be true.

The lower stage is a concrete pit surrounded with shelves stacked with roughly 400 cardboard records boxes. When we are first introduced, this stage serves as a car rental agency in 2010. At the beginning, there is no doubt the boxes are filled with car rental paperwork, but the stage later hosts an interrogation room, the records agency Nikolai works in and the home of one character who is a closeted gay man. The multiple uses of this stage emphasize that records can be changed to accommodate the whims of the record keeper, and the imposing walls of boxes create an eerie claustrophobia. By the final bow, it is clear these characters -- and maybe our own selves -- are trapped in a world full of dubious facts.

A seasoned cast enhances this thoughtful drama by bringing moments of levity and genuine feeling to the production. Ross Beschler (Isaac), Steven Rishard (Nikolai) and Sarah Gliko (Yevgenia, Nikolai's fortune-teller wife) navigate their characters through more than 50 years of aging with perfect charm. Gliko is a breath of fresh air as she plays the production's most eccentric character. Yevgenia represents the supernatural - a trait that could have gone more Harry Potter hokey than loveable and real - but Gliko is able to make her funny and nuanced beyond the script.

Describe the Night at the Wilma Theater is a modern epic that poses a question with real-world influence. Its standout design and commitment from its actors and creative team make it a must-see play this season.

Describe the Night runs until Feb. 16, and tickets can be purchased HERE.

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