It’s got singing and dancing and choreographed stomping by the ensemble, but it isn’t a musical. And it isn’t much of a play, either. It’s a new production of Tony Kushner’s 1985 polemic about the despotic politics of Russia and Germany in the early 1930s, A Bright Room Called Day.
Taking place at the end of the Weimar Republic and covering the years 1932 and 1933 (tediously, repetitively, and endlessly, in what feels like real time), the play follows seven friends as they toy with Socialism and Communism, and watch both movements get swept away by Fascism.
Based on Bertolt Brecht’s 1938 play The Private Life of the Master Race, Kushner’s original theatrical diatribe was aimed at the policies of Ronald Reagan (especially his indifference to the AIDS pandemic), but in this current update there is a not-so-subtle likeness implied between Germany in the ‘30s and the United States in the 2000s.
The friends are a motley crew, badly directed by Jeremy Lelliott, and none of them is a good enough actor to engender any empathy—or connection—with the audience. There is a Hungarian (Miles Warner), a gay man (Graham Kurtz), a couple of diehard Communists (Laura Crow and Mark Jacobson), and a wishy-washy leading lady, Agnes, (Teya Patt) who vacillates between perplexity and inertia. In other words, the stereotypical usual suspects.
There is also an eighth cast member: a lady in a black lace dress (Kim Reed), who flutters around speaking inscrutable monologues in an uneven German accent so forcefully as to be unintelligible. Her character is called Die Alte; I thought she was supposed to represent the spirit of Germany or something. My friend thought she represented death. Whatever.
According to the characters themselves, the setting is supposed to be Agnes’ home, but there are no furnishings except a backdrop of flashy propaganda posters from the competing political ideologies (e.g., head shots of Hitler and Lenin). A black screen periodically projects news alerts, time frames (May 2, 1932, Later that Night), and photos and films from historical archives. And of course there is the usual montage of photos from the Holocaust, jarring as ever.
All in all, Kushner’s two and a half hour message, however you interpret it, comes off as cold, emotionally sterile, and mystifying. And I didn’t understand the title, either.
A Bright Room Called Day, presented by the Coeurage Theatre Company, will continue Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7:30 through September 15th at The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave. in Los Angeles. Call 323-944-2165 for reservations.
Photo: Miles Warner, Teya Patt, and Graham Kurtz
By Kevin McShane