BWW Review: Head Trick Theatre's Riveting WATCH ON THE RHINE at AS220
Head Trick Theatre continues to perform thought-provoking, timely productions with their latest piece, Lillian Hellman's 1941 play, WATCH ON THE RHINE.
The year is 1940, and Sara Müller is returning home for the first time in 20 years after living abroad in Europe with her husband, Kurt, and three children. They are greeted not only by her mother, Fanny, and brother David, but also the two other houseguests who have been boarding with the family, the impoverished Romanian count Teck de Brancovis and his wife Marthe. But Watch on the Rhine is much more than a family living room drama; rather, the drama revolves around Kurt, an anti-Fascist activist, and what occurs when Teck discovers more about his true identity and activities back in Europe.
The play is long enough to warrant two ten-minute intermissions, but as directed by Rebecca Maxfield, this production is so thoroughly engrossing that the time flies by. The Black Box Theatre in AS220 has been made into a completely open space, maximizing the area available to the actors, without so much as a curtain blocking off any of the areas. Even the area immediately outside the exit door, on the sidewalk, is put to creative use. The audience seating is divided up between either side of the stage area, with an array of blankets and pillows liberally distributed throughout - and which audience members are fully encouraged to use (a blanket was indeed welcome on a chilly Saturday afternoon). The closeness of the audience to the action makes one feel as though they're truly part of the scene, that they are also a guest at the Farrelly's country house, and this immersion adds to the visceral and very intense moments of the play.
The acting is incredibly strong, the interactions between the various family members (or otherwise) so natural, combined with the close proximity lends the show an almost cinematic feel. It's difficult to pick out any particular stand outs, as the entire cast is excellent. As Fanny Farrelly, the family matriarch, Paula Faber is slightly affected but extremely appropriate for a character such as this. Charles Lafond appears to have a delectable time as the nefarious count, the tension palpable during scenes between him and several of the other characters, most notably his wife Marthe (Christine Pavao), David Farrelly (Ian Hudgins), and of course Kurt Müller (Andrew Stigler). Stigler, as the German anti-fascist on the run, attempting to secure a place for his family, plays the role with gravitas, conviction, and a consistently spot-on accent. (Accents are required of numerous characters, and were well-done by all - not always an easy feat!)
While this play originally opened several months before the attack on Pearl Harbor and thus the United States' involvement in World War II, Lillian Hellman was an ardent Leftist disturbed by this country's unwillingness to act against the rise of fascism in Europe. Hellman was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee , which resulted in her being blacklisted by the film industry, although she continued to have a career as a playwright on Broadway and alter as a memoirist. Hellman's character Kurt hopes that his actions and those of the other anti-fascists will lead to a world that is safe for not just his children, but all children everywhere, likely mirroring her own, personal beliefs. One wonders what Hellman would think about the current political climate, and that even in the year 2018, the themes of fascism and anti-fascists are as relevant as ever before.
Watch on the Rhine plays at AS220's Black Box Theatre through October 21st, with performances on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8pm and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $20 and can be ordered online at http://www.headtricktheatre.org/watch-on-the-rhine/ or at the door. Thursday night is "Pay What You Can," and tickets are free with a Brown or RISD student ID for any performance.