BWW Review: The Williams Project's A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY - When Will We Learn?
Dear Readers, today I want to talk to you about one of the most exciting companies in town and their latest show, The Williams Project's "A Bright Room Called Day" by Tony Kushner. Specifically, I want to focus on three aspects of why they and their current show are so exciting and by the end I expect one if not all three aspects will entice you to catch this one, or at least I hope so.
First let's talk about the play. Kushner's most known for his masterwork "Angels in America". So many of his other works grow pale in that looming shadow. In "A Bright Room Called Day" he focuses on what he sees as the correlation between the rise of the fascist regime in Germany with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and Ronald Regan and the Republican Party in that era. In the story we focus on two time periods, 1932-1933 in Germany where Agnes (Lateefah Holder), a struggling actress, and her leftist friends, Vealtninc (Nick Edwards), a filmmaker, Paulinka (Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako), another actress though much more successful, Gregor (Grant Chapman), a homosexual, and Annabella (Dedra D. Woods) an artist, struggle to make their art and make their world a better place in the face of tyranny. On the other side we see Zillah (Elise LeBreton) in the 80's as she puts together a video letter for President Regan showing off the similarities to the goings on in the 30's and the 80's. But the thing is, although they never actually say his name or mention the goings on now (Zillah in her presentation does everything but) this production points out the rising fascist regime in our own country today with Trump making this a fascinating look at not only how history continues to repeat itself but, with Agnes and her friends, spotlighting the various types of "resistors" and how those types haven't changed much either.
Now let's talk about William's Project more specifically and their somewhat guerrilla style of theater. Sure, I've seen them in a traditional theater but even then, they mostly created their illusions with minimal sets and costumes, relying on the words and their skill to get the message across and that still holds true. Lately they perform in churches and community centers (here we're at Hillman City Collaboratory), places not typically meant for theater with no fancy lights or sound systems or comfortable chairs. But under the guidance of Artistic Director Ryan Guzzo Purcell they don't seem to need it as they're really more of an actor's company.
Which brings me to my third point, the acting. Being an actor's company, putting on such solid works and, yes, paying a good wage they bring in the talent and this show is certainly no exception. The entire ensemble is rock solid. Holder manages a naïve sweetness throughout as the through line for the piece and her arc is subtle but powerful. Edwards, Nako, Chapman, and Woods have much more visceral reactions in the show, each within their own character, and show off their stunning connection to their characters and each other. LeBreton exists in the piece as the kind of omniscient body, always present but rarely intrusive and her contempt for her subjects is only an echo of our own. Lexi Chipman and Brandon J. Simmons make a few appearances as bickering party officials but it's their solo work where they shine. Chipman's final moments as she tries to help the head-in-the-sand Agnes are wonderful. And then there's Simmons who is the reason to come see this play if you need only one. In one scene Vealtninc conjures up the incarnation of evil to show his friends what true evil is. Enter Simmons and one of the most focused, mesmerizing, and creepy performances I've seen.
In spaces like these and with no lights and sets you would think that Purcell and The Williams Project couldn't pull off the amazing works they do but it all boils down to talent and commitment. And so, I give The Williams Project's production of "A Bright Room Called Day" an am-I-really-surprised YAY. Basically, when you hear they're doing a show, you find a way to go. Trust me.
"A Bright Room Called Day" from The Williams Project performs at the Hillman City Collaboratory through November 18thand all tickets are pay what you can. For tickets or information visit them online at www.thewilliamsproject.org.