BWW Reviews: A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY at Nu Sass Productions
It's easy to jump on a trend and hitch a ride on a theatrical bandwagon to relevance and edginess. Site-specific theatre is certainly a growing trend, starting in the UK and making its way slowly but surely to the United States. Site-specific theatre tends to go one of two ways: either the play feels shoehorned into a strange venue for the sake of hipness, or the alternative setting amplifies the text, draws in the audience, and creates a transformative experience. I am happy to report that Nu Sass Production's A Bright Room Called Day falls squarely into the latter, more triumphant camp.
The play is set inside a Berlin apartment on the cusp of Hitler's rise to power, and follows the flat's socialist-leaning tenant Agnes Egglig and her friends, as they struggle to fight the growing evil outside their window with flagging idealism. Nu Sass has nestled this complex play, that makes the grandly political feel like the best kind of living room drama, into the brick-walled gallery at Caos on F. Small batches of 20 audience members sit on chairs almost indistinguishable from the chaise longue and ornate armchairs occupied by the actors. Betsy Haibel's set of flowing, sheer curtains creates a warm atmosphere that turns instantly threatening with the addition of Colin Dieck's masterful lighting as Germany descends into madness.
After experiencing Tony Kushner's masterful and dream-like script in such an intimate atmosphere, I have difficulty imagining the play in a proscenium theatre or even a black box. I can't believe that any other setting would accurately capture the subtle shift in Agnes's psyche as she realizes that her beloved, cozy apartment has become a claustrophobic nightmare as certain death in the form of the Nazis approaches. The Nu Sass production also neatly incorporates Zillah Katz, the play's out-of-scene narrator from the 1980s, who is hosting an art exhibit in honor of her grandmother, Rosa Malek, a character featured in the 1930s Berlin storyline. Because the play is literally set in an art gallery, this creative twist heightens the audience's sense of immersion in the work.
While I found the overall production to be engaging and enlightening, it wasn't without its small flaws. The projections, while aesthetically pleasing, slowed down transitions and hampered the rhythm of the dialogue. Some performances, including Karen Lange as Agnes and Keegan Cassady as Vealtninc Husz, Agnes's political, fiery love interest, took until the second act to come in to their own. But the performance I saw was an invited dress rehearsal, and I feel confidant that the finished product will continue to improve as the company works out how to best interact with such an intimate audience. Some of the most enjoyable moments in the play came from Amber Gibson's turn as Paulinka, a seemingly glib film star with surprising depth, and John Stange's frankly terrifying Herr Gottfried Swetts, otherwise known as the devil himself. There is plenty of good acting on display, which audiences will get to see first hand as the action unfolds a mere few feet away.
A Bright Room Called Day, by Tony Kushner, runs at Caos on F St NW from March 12th - April 5th on Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and on Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are $20.