Why Brecht? Why Now?
In the press release introducing the production, Haven Theatre’s Artistic Director Josh Sobel explains, "As the world finds itself in the midst of its next great cultural shift, Brecht's examination of the common citizen and how a society can be led to accept the inhumane feels strikingly immediate. Brecht wrote this play reflecting and pulling back the curtain on the news of the day as it was happening around him, providing an unnerving and – in our current moment – all too important call to confront injustice as it happens and to firmly and proudly say: No. With this production we seek to serve one of Haven's core values – the Future – through an intimate and personal look at our past and how such fatal mistakes were allowed to take place."
Through a series of vignettes Bertolt Brecht’s FEAR & MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH (translated by Eric Bentley) gives a harsh glimpse at Nazi Germany.In this strong Haven Theatre productiontalented ensemble moves effortlessly through the playlets,with the actors embodying various characters in varying degrees of Nazi Era-born dire circumstances.
Haven Theatre Superb Stagecraft
The production, directed by Artistic Director Josh Sobel, is a show of images and ideas that fearlessly embrace elements most associate with Brecht. The playing space seemed to have been created for the design team and cast, instead of requiring the staging to adapt to it. Even the exposed brick walls and catwalk above the audience lend themselves to its minimalist feel. At times we feel like we’re sitting in an internment camp.
The set also has pockets carved around and into it,which at first seem random. They actually, allow for bench seating that immediately makes sense of the extra cushions offered at the door. The placement of benches makes it hard for audience members to not seem like part of the action at times. It’s even harder to ignore moments of uncomfortable laughter or discomfort we feel from each other.
While Scenic DesignerYuShibagaki’sstark set is the first image to grab you upon entering the space, it is definitely not the only element that grabs attention. Claire Chrzan’s lighting teams well with Sarah D. Espinoza’s soundscape to create different moody and difficult worlds for each vignette to inhabit. Chrzan’s use of shadow, and occasional embrace of darkness, particularly stands out as you watch the ensemble move effortlessly through each new world. These effects augment our growing discomfort as the play continues.
Izumi Inaba’s costume design is subtle and intricate. Hems of skirts are a bit distressed with occasional strings hanging from the bottom. The careful planning of which costume pieces would stay on the actors at all times, and which ones would be traded out as they move through their character tracks, is especially worth noting.
Tight Ensemble Work
The ensemble as a whole, seemed to be one cohesive unit, making it hard to tell which three actors were actually understudies. Daniel Chenard, Alex Elam, and Amy Gorelow blended in with the rest of the ensemble so seamlessly that if not for the program telling us people were missing we would have no idea. Even after reading the program insert it’s hard to believe that everyone on stage hasn’t been on it for the full run.
Each actor had multiple moments throughout the performance that make it impossible for this writer to choose one, or two, to highlight. The cohesion of the ensemble is astounding. They play off of each other and fight for moments of delight while navigating paranoia, fear, and uncertainty. The actors seamlessly show differing physicalities, voices, and speech patterns for each sceneas each new story requires.
An Experience For Almost Anyone
While those familiar with Brecht will enjoy certain aspects more than others, this production could easily be followed by anyone who enjoys challenging theatre. People who enjoy sci-fi anthologies will feel at home and wonder if their favorite shows were influenced by this script. However, the main appeal is the experience of walking into the unknown and understanding we’re all lost in this together.
This play is now added to the Picture This Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO where it will remain until the end of the run.
Thru March 11
About the Author:
Sharai Bohannon is a playwright, and an avid theatre practitioner, who is very excited to write about most things but especially Chicago Theatre. She has a background in journalism and technical theatre and is excited that those degrees will be put to use in a way that gives her an excuse to leave her couch and brave this “outside” that people keep telling her about. When not on her couch watching TV, she can be found working one of her multiple jobs and/or hunting down a happy hour near you. Get to know some of her work here.