Magic Time!

The random adventures of a theater buff in DC

Month: January, 2018

Jefferson’s Garden

A portrait of George Washington hangs in Ford’s Theatre on the presidential box where Abraham Lincoln was shot. When you stop to think about it, this is an odd disconnect. Presumably faithful to what the box looked like that fateful night, the Washington portrait viewed today makes the crime scene seem a shrine to the wrong man. It’s truthful but misleading.

This preshow reflection turned out to be apt preparation for Jefferson’s Garden, the play now on the boards at Ford’s.

READ Elizabeth Ballou’s review of Jefferson’s Garden at Ford’s Theatre 

There is a curious interplay between history and interpretation in Jefferson’s Garden, Ford’s entry in the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. By its own acknowledgment, the play is a historical fiction, though it’s about something that really happened. It dramatizes the pivotal point in U.S. history when the country’s founding ideals of freedom, independence, equality, and liberty were sold down the river by white male slaveholders.

The cast of Jefferson’s Garden. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

In a way, you could say, America’s history of slavery is its moral Achilles heel. And that’s just on its one foot. On the other is its other moral Achilles heel, the genocide of the people whose home this land once was. Thus for several centuries the nation has hobbled along bipedally imagining itself to be America the Beautiful, Land of the Free. And just about every national immorality since—be it the internment camps or the recent eviction of innocent immigrants—can be traced in a direct line back to those two Founding Flaws.

In Jefferson’s Garden, British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker zeros in on one of them, the contradiction between the American revolutionaries’ espousal of freedom, equality, and inalienable rights and the hard fact that the Framers enshrined slavery in the Constitution. As the playwright said in an interview,

It seemed to me that this particular moment in American history is when the fault lines were laid, when the definition of freedom was corrupted.

First produced in the UK in 2015 to critical acclaim, Jefferson’s Garden retains a supercilious Brit’s eye view. These idealistic upstart colonists and their glaring ethical contradictions! the play seems to chide. Did they not learn from being on the receiving end of oppression how not to do it to others? Guess not!

And of course, the point is well taken.

But the construction and tone of the play rarely reach the gravitas that grounds the historical substance of the play. The theatrical setup is promising: nine actors don various costumes from wardrobe racks and black crates and act out various characters and scenes that tell the story of how America’s ideals were compromised. It’s as if traveling players had come to town to catch the conscience of all us anti-monarchists.

The Native American genocide is glossed over. There’s a telling mention in Wertenbaker’s script in the second act when the Framers determine that a freed slave should be quantified as three-fifths of a person, and an Indian as nothing. That’s it, zip, a blip.

The cast of Jefferson’s Garden. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The Ford’s production is first-rate. The cast is a Who’s Who of local acting talent (Christopher Block, Felicia Curry, Michael Kevin Darnall, Christopher Dinolfo, Kimberly Gilbert, Michael Halling, Thomas Keegan, Katheryn Tkel, Maggie Wilder), nearly all of whom I’ve seen do stunning work in meatier roles. Director Nataki Garrett keeps the flurry of character switches and scene shifts on a clear course at a quick clip.  And the epic script is loaded with lines that have a glorious oratorical ring to them.

We won the war but now we have to shape a country.

Let the inherent rights of man be restored.

Then from Susannah, a slave:

America hasn’t yet been shaped to make me safe.

And from a candid founding father:

Privilege is always bought with someone’s freedom.

Yet I left the theater disappointed, distanced. Given the topic—how our country compromised its values to rationalize a crime against humanity—I would have expected some emotion beyond mild bemusement, engagement with characters who captured my caring, perhaps even a twinge of sorrow or shame. But compared with home-grown dramatic treatments of what America euphemizes as its race problem—Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon (seen recently at Woolly), Suzan-Lori Parks’s Father Comes Home From the Wars (Round House), Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment (Forum), James Ijames’s The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington (Ally), and Steven A. Butler Jr.’s The Very Last Days of the First Colored Circus (Restoration Stage) come to mind—Wertenbaker’s Jefferson’s Garden seemed to me wan without bite or sting, high concept without rage in the gut, an exercise more than an exorcism.

Judging from enthusiastic reviews of the UK production, it played better across the pond.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Jefferson’s Garden plays through February 8, 2018, at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, go online.

 

Advertisements

The Trial

Kafka’s nightmare novel about a man named Joseph K—who is arrested, detained, and tried but never told what he has done wrong—would seem perfect for Synetic Theater’s magic touch. A promising opportunity to use its magnificent design, choreographic, and musical talents in service to a surreal story with unmistakable relevance today. A potential parable about faceless state action rounding up and deporting people whose only crime is to live here.

Surely the adjective Kafkaesque applies to what is now being done to innocent people in our country’s name. So I looked forward Synetic’s take on the story of Joseph K.

Scene from The Trial. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

I recall being greatly impressed by the contemporary resonance to be found in the previous Synetic production I saw, The Mark of Cain. In my review I wrote:

Fans of Synetic Theater’s music-and movement-based works derived from classic texts will find a surprise twist in the company’s latest offering. Typically, a Synetic extravaganza creates a vivid other world, someplace unto itself, visually voluptuous, aurally luscious, always a trip to somewhere fantabulous. But with The Mark of Cain, Synetic’s first wholly original devised work in five years, the other world collides with the real world. The mythic meets the immediate. And the impact is smashing.

The narrative of The Mark of Cain traced the mythic origin of human evil and how it has persisted throughout history in corrupt power…

And then comes the episode where Cain’s emblem of malevolent authority is … a too-long red tie around his neck. You may have suspected the show was going there and it does, breathtakingly.

With that brilliant allusion to Trump, the entire piece took on gravitas that left me marveling.

Just as well as Synetic can retell a classic of literature wordlessly, the company now shows its chops evoking corruption and resistance viscerally, without a word being spoken.

Thus I was expecting Synetic’s The Trial to have some of the same currency and heft. Perhaps even more, since The Trial would have language (not credited in the program except that Nathan Weinberger is billed as Adaptor).

Scene from The Trial. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Directed by Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili with movement by Associate Artistic Director Irina Tsikurishvili, The Trial is as eye-popping, ear-buzzy, and kinesthetic as anything I’ve seen at Synetic. Costume Designer Erik Teague has outfitted all the characters (except Joseph K) as eerie oversize insects, bug-eyed, scaley, multilimbed, creepy-crawly. Lighting Designer Brian S. Allard deploys a vivid palette of reds, greens, blues, and yellows into an ominous dark world evoked by Scenic Designer Daniel Pinha’s “massive, ruthless insect hive” (per a program note). And in the same menacing vein, Resident Composer Konstantine Lortikipanidze has again scored an extraordinary soundscape, this time employing what seems an orchestra of anthropods.

Shu-nan Chu is especially good as Joseph K, the hapless pawn in a pernicious powerplay who tries his best to protest and resist. And the various personages named in the novel who figuratively bug Joseph K, and who here are literally bugging out, are also very well played (Tori Bertocci as Anna, Chris Willumsen as Willem, Thomas Beheler as Franz, Ryan Tumulty as Inspector/Judge/Priest/Huld, Kathy Gordon as Clerk/Mrs. Grubach/Leni, Lee Liebeskind as Karl).

Scene from The Trial. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

But The Trial didn’t work for me. As I left the theater I wondered why. And here’s what I figured out.

By turning all the ancillary characters in The Trial into insects, Synetic in a sense conflated the story of Joseph K with the story of Gregor Samsa, who in Kafka’s Metamorphosis wakes up as a huge cockroach. Taking that sort of liberty is Synetic’s stock in trade, of course, and typically the payoff is fresh insight into the source material.

This time, though, the approach proves antithetical to the text. Synetic’s vision of The Trial turns the story of an ordinary man bedeviled by mindless bureaucrats into a story of an ordinary man beset by a roach infestation. Which makes the play not so much a trenchant parable as a hollow sci-fi tale of alien abduction.

Whatever Kafka’s reason for telling the stories of Joseph K and Gregor Samsa in separate works, it was probably a good one. Mushing them together not only misses the point of the author. It’s a missed artistic opportunity for contemporary resonance and revelation.

Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission.

The Trial plays through February 18, 2018, at Synetic Theater – 1800 South Bell Street, in Crystal City, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

Note:  This production is recommended for ages 14+ for mature content.

LINK:

Review: ‘The Trial’ at Synetic Theater by David Siegel

VIDEO:

 

Everything Is Illuminated

A young Jewish American writer named Jonathan arrives by train in the Ukraine on a quest to find a woman named Augustine who helped his grandfather Safran escape the Nazis. He has only a faded photograph of them together and the name of a tiny town, Trachimbrod. But he must find her—he must—because she is the woman without whom he would not have been.

“He has come a long way to seek his past,” says Alex, the amiable young Ukrainian whom Jonathan has hired as translator.

“And I have gone a long way to escape mine,” says Alex’s gruff Grandfather, whom Jonathan has hired as driver. We know not yet what Alex’s Grandfather refers to, though we already have good reason to wonder what he did in the war. And the moment goes by fast—just one of countless breathtaking beats in an exquisitely written play.

Everything Is Illuminated—adapted by British playwright Simon Block from Jonathan Safran Foer’s acclaimed debut novel—delves into the distance between Holocaust remembering and Holocaust forgetting. Between honoring the dead and disavowing why and how they died. Between the sorrow and the complicity. And incredibly, unforgettably, what comes shining through like literal light is a radiant emotional experience as heartrending as it is hilarious.

Yes, hilarious—not a word one might associate with such resolute remembrance.

Billy Finn, Alex Alferov, and Daven Ralston in Everything Is Illuminated. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

First off, Jonathan’s translator Alex is a randy dude with a nutty grasp of English, and as delivered in dialect by the commandingly comedic Alex Alferov, his not-quite-literate lines land laugh after laugh (“I implore you to forgive my speaking of English. I am not so premium with it”).

Second, Alex’s Grandfather, Jonathan’s driver, wears dark glasses, hobbles with a white cane, and appears to be blind. He’s not really, but this serves to unnerve Jonathan, as does the Grandfather’s sudden burst of anger. The Grandfather is a character whose full complexity comes to a shocking boil in a flashback in the second act, but in the beginning, Eric Hissom has him simmer to fascinating and fearsome effect.

The brainy, fish-out-of-water Jonathan is nicely played with earnest honesty by Billy Finn, who’s especially winning as the foil for the jokey setups. Notable among them is the horny, yapping, and flatulent dog (a puppet animated and voiced by Daven Ralston) that accompanies the threesome on their drive to Jonathan’s mystery destination.

Daven Ralson and Billy Finn in Everything Is Illuminated. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Ralson also appears in other supporting roles, including surly Waitress, crusty Hotel Keeper, sullen Petrol Attendant—each deftly individuated. But her immeasurable contribution to the magic of the play is as musician (playing lovely incidental interludes of her composition on stringed instruments) and as Brod, a maybe mythical muse to Jonathan when his writer’s imagination must fill in blanks that his journey cannot.

Several timelines interweave in the play, as well as shifts from naturalism to magical realism; not all is always as it seems. So it is that Jonathan encounters an Old Woman who lives alone in a small house one room of which has shelves full of photographs and other mementos in labeled boxes. In Nancy Robinette’s magnificent portrayal, the Old Woman delivers a heart-stopping story recalling what happened to the shtetl of Trachimbrod.

Old Woman: I am the only one remaining…
They were all killed…
Except for one or two who managed to escape…
You should never have to be the one remaining.

Billy Finn, Nancy Robinette, Alex Alferov, and Eric Hissom in Everything Is Illuminated. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Is she Augustine, the woman who saved Jonathan’s grandfather? Maybe, maybe not. But upon seeing Jonathan’s photograph of them together, she remembers Safran was the first boy she kissed.

Equally heart-stopping but even more horrifying is the story Hissom as Grandfather tells in which we learn what he did that he has tried to forget. “I am a good person who lived in a bad time,” he says to his grandson, trying to justify himself, trying to explain what, despite his intentions, got brutally passed down from father to son to son.

Grandfather: I didn’t want your father to grow up close to so much death. I wanted so much for him to live a good life, without death and choices and shame and guilt. Without guilt, Alex. Oh, to live without guilt!…
I wanted to remove your father from everything that was shameful. But I discovered that shame follows you like an infected dog…

The play’s theatrical mix of realism and invention comes alive in language so amazing it washes over one like waves. The stage arts too combine to make this a spectacularly engaging production.

Director Aaron Posner conducts each pulsebeat with an emotional reverence that resonates throughout the house. Scenic Designer Paige Hathaway enlarges upon the Old Woman’s shelves and makes of them a testament to the mind’s quest to retrieve meaning. Costume Designer Kendra Rai mixes rustic and real (for Alex, Grandfather, and others) with sublime and wished-for (the ethereal white gowns worn by Old Woman and Brod). Sound Designer Palmer Hefferan brings vibrant veracity to Jonathan’s arrival at the train station, and near the end Heffernan and Lighting Designer Jesse Belsky create cosmic effects with heart-stirring force.

Special kudos to Dialect Coach Nancy Krebs for achieving an astonishing layering of languages. Alex, when addressing Jonathan or the audience in his funny, fractured English, speaks with a thick Slavic dialect; yet when Alex, his Grandfather, and others talk among themselves in their native tongue, they do so with standard American inflection. The result, an aural delight, intriguingly echoes the levels of perspective at play.

Theater J Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr pursued the rights to stage Everything Is Illuminated with a determination that now pays off in a powerful production not to be missed. I know there will be many who will see it having read Foer’s book, but I came to the play cold. And with each plot surprise and poetically turned phrase, it swept me away. I absolutely loved it.

Running Time: Two hours 25 minutes, including one intermission.

Everything Is Illuminated plays through February 4, 2018, at Theater J at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center – 1529 16th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 777-3210, or purchase them online.

 

The Skin of Our Teeth

Thornton Wilder’s allegorical paean to humanity’s survival “by the skin of our teeth” has itself become a marvel of endurance. First staged in 1942, when times were decidedly dire, the determinedly optimistic The Skin of Our Teeth was a Pulitzer Prize-winning hit on Broadway and has been steadily produced ever since.

It’s a wackadoodle play, a kitchen sink of metatheatrical tricks. The actors break character and stop then restart the play, the chronology spans eons in three acts, comic bits accumulate with non-sequiturial chutzpah. Truth to tell, Wilder’s dramaturgical unorthodoxy has been matched if not surpassed by many of the very experimental playwrights he inspired. Yet this unclassifiable comedy-drama sticks around, an artifact from the past and a perennial audience pleaser—because crazily enough it’s got something to say that still needs hearing.

Wilder believed the play “mostly comes alive under times of crisis.” And indeed, given the cynical mess in our government and the creeping cynicism that has ensued, the fresh and feisty version of The Skin of Our Teeth that comes alive in Constellation Theatre Company’s production proves Wilder’s point perfectly.

Malinda Kathleen Reese (Gladys), Steven Carpenter (Mr. Antrobus), Lolita Marie (Mrs. Antrobus), and Dallas Tolentino (Henry) in The Skin of Our Teeth. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

The basic plot is by any measure screwy. A certain George and Maggie Antrobus (Steven Carpenter and Lolita Marie)—stand-ins for the human race—have been married for 5,000 years. They live simultaneously in 1942 Excelsior, New Jersey, and in time immemorial. Which means that a radio broadcaster can announce news of the day even as George invents the wheel and a pet dino and woolly mammoth wander in.

Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus have two upstart teenagers—a daughter, Gladys (Malinda Kathleen Reese), and a son, Henry (Dallas Tolentino)—and an outspoken maid, Sabina (Tonya Beckman). A gritty if offbeat family, the Antrobuses survive before our eyes the Ice Age (in Act One), a global flood (in Act Two), and a devastating war (in Act Three). The upbeat ending celebrates humanity’s resilience and ability to make new beginnings.

The fun is in the fast-paced farcical crises that beset this tenacious family, and Director Mary Hall Surface keeps up a winning momentum. Some of Wilder’s laugh lines land more mildly today than they surely did in 1942, yet a few are surprisingly contemporary zingers. And overall there’s an energetic pleasantness and cheerful inventiveness to the performances that well sustains the show’s two and a half hours.

Tonya Beckman (Sabina) and Lilian Oben (Fortune Teller) in The Skin of Our Teeth. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

In particular, Lolita Marie plays Mrs. Antrobus with a persuasive gravitas that consistently grounds the play, and Tonya Beckman brings to Sabina a sassy sashay that brightens each scene she’s in.

Also noteworthy in the big cast are Gerrad Alex Taylor (Telegraph Boy/Interviewer/Ensemble), Collin Connor (Frederick/Fred Bailey/Ensemble), Ben Lauer (Dolly/Broadcast Official/Ensemble), Billie Krishawn (Stage Manager/Ensemble), Lilian Oben (Fortune Teller/Ensemble), Mary Miller-Booker (Broadcast Official/Hester/Ensemble), Christopher Gillespie (Mr. Tremayne/Ensemble), and Natalie Cutcher (Ivy/Ensemble).

The set by Scenic Designer A.J. Guban (who also did the lighting) is particularly clever. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright—with geometric earth tones on the floor, stacked-flagstone walls, mission furnishings—it winks at the fact that several of the great architect’s most famous houses have not withstood time well.

Malinda Kathleen Reese (Gladys) in The Skin of Our Teeth. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

Costume Designer Frank Labovitz walks a fine funny line between couture and cartoon, especially in the colorful second-act scene on the Atlantic City Boardwalk (where we meet a flamboyant Fortune Teller who knows both future and past). Sound Designer Justin Schmitz besides providing some delightful 1940s music tracks also makes scenes of nearby disaster a chest-pounding experience. And Puppet Designer Matthew Aldwin McGee’s antediluvian critters are cute as buttons.

The Skin of Our Teeth is a perfect pick-me-up for imperfect times. The play has been around and will likely be around longer, since its significance shelf life syncs with that of the human race. But hats off to Constellation Theatre Company for reminding us that despite current crises, we all have an important part to play in continuing what has to “go on and on for ages yet.”

Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes, including a single intermission between Acts One and Two.

The Skin of Our Teeth plays through February 11, 2018, at Constellation Theatre Company performing at Source Theatre – 1835 14th Street North West, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 204-7741, or purchase them online.

 

Guilt

Sex and guilt were linked in superstition before institutional Christianity came on the scene, but thanks to the medieval Catholic Church they got hooked up with theology too. It was in the runup to the church’s crackpot Inquisition that three senses of the word possession—as carnal, religious, and demonic—got all mushed together. And western civilization has not since quite got them sorted.

This approximately is the historical and contemporary backdrop for John Shand’s Guilt, a dazzlingly literary play in verse based on the true story of Urbain Grandier, a womanizing 17th-century French Catholic priest who was burned at the stake for sorcery.

Now having its world premiere in a penetrating Scena Theatre production directed by Artistic Director Robert McNamara, Guilt is rich with scintillating ideas and alive with vivid language. According to the author, Guilt “explores the overlays and collisions between sexual and spiritual rapture: how one might fuel the other, and how one might be misconstrued as the other.” The work also functions as an epic morality play about misplaced guilt, “reckoning” overreaction, and mistaken retribution.

Oscar Ceville (Grandier) and Danielle Davy (Brigitte) in Guilt. Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

Subtitled “an opera without music,” Shand’s script is rife with poetic arias that fuse ecstasy, eroticism, and doctrine. And sometimes flat-out lechery, as when we meet the vain Grandier (Oscar Ceville) admiring himself in a mirror:

Grandier: What purpose lay in lavishing such looks
as might threaten one’s humility,
if not to snare the weaker sex?
And, after all, by bedding them, do I
not let them touch the very ladder to our Lord?
So in a sense my seed anoints:
a sort of sacrament.

The local Magistrate De Brou (Ron Litman) brings his lovely 18-year-old daughter Brigitte (Danielle Davy) to Grandier for innocent lute lessons. Left alone with her, Grandier sets about seducing her.

Meanwhile, he preaches a sermon extolling chastity in the unwed. Upon hearing his overheated homily, Jeanne (Nanna Ingvarsson), a sexually frustrated hunchbacked prioress, delivers a hilarious lyrical aside about her own prurient interest in him.

Jeanne: I could eat his voice, and chew on every word;
eat his voice and devour his lips;
roll his voice around in my mouth,
roll it around with my tongue;
chew every word a hundred times…

The historical Grandier was a propagandist against clerical celibacy, which pissed off the ecclesiastical power structure, and Guilt touches on some of his arguments. But the character is presented more as horndog than polemicist. And Brigitte his virgin conquest is depicted as quite coyly willing. Not yet having declared herself desirous of him, Brigitte delivers a passage purple with passion to Grandier in the confessional booth:

Brigitte: I’ve gazed upon a man – a passer-by, no more –
my eyes keen blades of lust;
I’ve felt his fingers in my hair
as he whispers words of love.
His fiery breath has kissed my ear,
as his arms, like rings of molten steel,
encircled and entrapped me.
I’ve lain sleepless through the nights,
the bed drenched in my sweat
as the ghost of his mouth –
as real as sin – found out my own,
and convulsed me with desire.
I’ve felt myself melt when exposed
to the furnace of his perfect mind.
I’ve seen myself harbour him
Amid his storms of passion.
I have wept at the glimpse of ecstasy;
I have ached with such longing for his lips –

Grandier: Yes, I think I get the gist.

Brigitte alludes of course to Grandier, he happily gets the hint—and there follows a classic scene of coital disappointment.

Brigitte: Is that all?
Pain, tears and violent violation
from a man who sheds abruptly
all wisdom, knowledge, beauty,
to become a heaving mass?

A few months later Brigitte lets Grandier know she’s pregnant, and he reacts like a misogynist dickhead.

Grandier: Wretched girl. She has ever been a trial….
And now, to be with child! The slut!
I’ve been abused at every turn.

Brigitte’s father, De Brou, browbeats her too.

De Brou: You stupid girl! You hussy! How dare you shame me in this way!

Topping things off, the unchivalrous Grandier, confronted by De Brou, totally denies having had sex with Brigitte.

Grandier: It was not I, but a great black dog that tupped her.

Ron Litman (De Brou), Oscar Ceville (Grandier), and Nanna Ingvarsson (Jeanne) in Guilt. Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

Let us pause to take stock of where guilt might fairly and accurately be apportioned at this point. Perhaps the Church bears some, for enforcing celibacy on priests (presumably so there will be no heirs to its earthly treasures). But realistically, seen from the point of view of any audience member even dimly aware of how patriarchy operates, Grandier and DeBrou are due for a load of guilt by the ton.

All of which makes the plot twists that follow both fascinating and effed up.

Jeanne, still carrying a torch for Grandier—who, we learn, “has defiled half the women in the town”—schemes to recruit him as confessor in her priory, but he scoffs at her offer. Outraged by his “oceanic arrogance” and bestirred by revenge, Jeanne declares, “If I can’t have him no one shall.”

Under increasing scrutiny for being “the man who preached ‘Be chaste’ while fucking women left and right,” Grandier goes grandiose:

Grandier: Though hordes of De Brous
seek to bring me down,
they’ll not succeed without the Church;
and the Church will never see besmirched
its own good name.

Grandier got that wrong though. The powers of the church come down upon him hard, first in the guise of a Jesuit exorcist, Surin (John Geoffrion), who reframes Grandier’s offense as witchcraft requiring a public exorcism. As he tells Jeanne and Brigitte,

Surin: Grandier is a sorcerer, and you are all under his spell. Under his spell he has seen fit to have you possessed by devils. Devils!

Grandier is imprisoned and tortured. Brigitte and Jeanne are put through excruciating exorcisms.  And steadily the play’s framing of Grandier shifts such that he becomes its centrally sympathetic character: “Surely I’ve done nothing so wrong to warrant this?” he pleads.

Surin will have none of it:

Surin: His trial must be a lesson to the world that we shall win this war against a foe that would destroy our God, our faith, our way of life. His death must give the people hope that we’ll prevail, while sowing the fear of God within their hearts of what befalls any who transgress.

Oscar Ceville, Nanna Ingvarsson, John Geoffrion (Surin), Danielle Davy, Ron Litman in Guilt. Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

Before Grandier is gruesomely burned alive, he mansplains an exoneration of himself:

Grandier: What if I did no more than lavish love where there was need?…
If I am guilty of any sin, it is the sin of love. Of loving too deeply the fairer sex. Of longing to satisfy their longings. Besides, the fault was not all mine. Often these women flung themselves at me, unable to contain their desires. Who could say “No!” when they threw off their clothes? Who could say “no” to their hungry tongues and honeyed thighs?

And Brigitte has a dramatic change of heart.

Brigitte: Until I saw the flames I thought –
I thought I hated him enough
to want to watch him die.
But hate melted to a swirling pool
of pity shored with desolation,
aching and throbbing, aching and throbbing
in my ears and in my breast;
tearing and tearing and tearing at me
with the thought I’ve killed the man I loved.
I have helped to fuel
the fire with an innocent man.

Danielle Davy (Brigitte) and Nanna Ingvarsson (Jeanne) in Guilt. Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

The play wants to sweep us into recognition that in the end Brigitte, as she tells us, is guilty too. Like a #MeToo victim with accuser’s remorse. This dramatic twist requires audience amnesia about how Grandier treated Brigitte earlier in the play when in classic blame-the-victim mode he rejects her as a slut for getting pregnant by him. For me that was too much a stretch, and I left the theater far more impressed with the playwright’s powers of poetic expression than with his powers of moral discernment.

Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.

Guilt plays through February 4, 2018, at Scena Theatre performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. 20002, For tickets, buy them at the door or purchase them online.

LINK: Review: ‘Guilt, an opera without music’ at Scena Theatre by David Siegel