Inhumanity

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana

In Vichy, France, 10 people are brought in by the Nazis to supposedly have their identification papers checked.  When it is revealed that the Nazis are really looking for Jewish people to send to concentration camps, tensions rise, debates rage, plans form, and people vanish one by one.  Some to freedom.  Others to death.  This is Incident at Vichy by Arthur Miller and performing at several local venues under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

I’m going to start with the ending of this review.  If you miss this show, you will be doing yourself a massive disservice.

Now let’s go the beginning.

One of theatre’s most amazing powers is its ability to take us out of ourselves for a while.  But it doesn’t always take us to a happy place.  In those moments, another of theatre’s powers is revealed.  Its ability to be a powerful agent for change by forcing us to take a long look at ourselves to examine our pasts, our motivations, and our history in order that we might be able to make those changes.  Incident at Vichy is one of those types of plays.

This is Arthur Miller’s least known and produced work.  I hadn’t even heard of it until I saw it on the BSB’s schedule.  After watching it, I’m surprised at its obscurity because it is clearly one of Miller’s finest works.

Few writers had the ability to shine a light on the darker sides of humanity the way Miller could.  He could effortlessly show our prejudices, our brutality, our capacity for evil.  Yet there is always the silver lining of hope.  Never is that more important than for this play as Miller must bring his skills to bear on a real part of our history.

Scott Kurz returns to the BSB for the first time in several years to direct this production and hasn’t lost a step.  The piece is masterfully staged as the 10 people sit side by side on a bench and are taken away in order.  Movement is minimal, but expertly utilized in the tiny performance space.  Kurz’s direction is absolutely impeccable.  No energy is wasted.  Each beat carefully presented.  The show is perfectly cast and each member of the ensemble nails their role to the floor.

Where does one begin analyzing a cast like this?  All do a superlative job, but some truly memorable performances come from Jeremy Earl who gives one of his best and deeply emotional performances as The Waiter; Garett Garniss as Lebeau, an extremely nervous artist who constantly taps out a melody and laments the fact that he was caught simply because he wanted to take a walk and see something real; John Hatcher as Bayard, an electrician who instantly recognizes the danger this group is in; Josh Ryan as a gypsy who provides some levity as he protects his pot; Tom Lowe as a “social anthropologist” who is confident he can recognize Jews through the length of noses and circumcision.  His smugness was so aggravating that I wanted to punch him in the mouth.

David Sindelar also shines in a role as a silent rabbi whose curled hand suggests a stroke, but he is always aware of what’s going on.  Sindelar has a gift for acting with his eyes and you can tell when he’s feeling fear, concern, defiance, and sadness with an occasional click of the tongue or mutter or whimper thrown in for good measure.

Scott Kurz gives an A+ performance in his turn as Leduc.  His delivery is so natural and extemporaneous that his lines truly sound like they’re coming off the top of his head as opposed to being learned dialogue.  His Leduc is determined and courageous, willing to risk his life if it means saving some of the others.  Some have argued that Leduc may be the voice of Miller himself as he recognizes the depth of depravity in humans and always serves as that galvanizing force so others will confront evil instead of kowtowing to it or simply lamenting it.

David Mainelli is pitiable in his role as Monceau.  I think this role could easily be played as a sniveling coward, but Mainelli makes him more complex.  His take on the character is more akin to the typical attitude taken towards Hitler when he was first gaining power.  He truly cannot believe that the Nazis would be so animalistic and barbaric as to incinerate people in furnaces due to their faith and ethnicity.  His determination to cling to the law which should protect him is both admirable and tragic as it forces him to suppress his survival instinct.

Vince Carlson is brilliant as Von Berg, the Catholic prince of Austria who is the one person guaranteed to escape this horror.  The fact that he knows he will escape puts an extraordinary burden on his shoulders as he must decide what to do with his freedom.  Carlson does phenomenal work being bowed by this pressure.  Unlike the rest, he truly understands the extreme danger presented by Hitler.  He’s seen his servants venerate Hitler like a god.  He’s seen the destruction Hitler is bringing to the Jews.  Von Berg represents the part of the populace that must make the life or death decision to either turn a blind eye to the oncoming storm or make a stand against it.

Charleen Willoughby’s costumes really enhance the production and add a bit of crucial life to each of the performers from the spot-on uniforms of the Nazis to the elegant custom-made suit of Von Berg to the rags of the Gypsy to the working-class clothes of Bayard and Leduc.

Incident at Vichy shines a glaring light on one of the darkest periods of human history and Miller reminds us it is an evil that must not be permitted to rise again.  As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”.

Incident at Vichy continues through April 21.  The April 14 performance will be at Omaha Benson High School (5120 Maple St) at 2pm.  The April 19-20 performances will be at The B Side of Benson Theatre ((6058 Maple St) at 7:30pm.  The April 21 performance will be at Omaha Burke High School (12200 Burke St) at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 ($25 for students/senior/military) and can be obtained at www.bsbtheatre.com or 402-502-4910.

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A Bridge Between Them

Francesca Johnson, an Iowa housewife originally from Italy, looks forward to a few days to herself when her family heads off to the 4H Nationals at the Indiana State Fair.  When her family leaves, a well-traveled National Geographic photographer, Robert Kincaid, arrives to ask for directions to the Roseman Bridge to complete his photo assignment.  Robert has recently visited Italy which sparks a fast friendship between himself and Francesca which evolves into something more and forces the two to make some life altering choices.  This is The Bridges of Madison County by Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and based on Robert James Waller’s novel.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I was quite surprised by this show.  I had been expecting a schmaltzy love story, but what I got was a well framed tale that built slowly, organically, and subtly.  This story is about much, much more than a man and a woman falling in love.  It’s about the circumstances that brought them together, the forces that drive them, and the hard choices they have to make about their respective futures.  I especially liked how natural the affair comes about.  There’s nothing forced about it.  It was just something that happened which leaves it up to the viewer to decide on the morality of what goes down.  The show is aided by Brown’s score, especially as interpreted by Jim Boggess and his splendid orchestra.  The songs are almost internal monologues and span a series of emotions that I have never seen before in a musical.

A story that builds as methodically as this one requires a very gentle touch with the direction and Kimberly Faith Hickman provides that touch and then some.  Ms Hickman strikes each emotional beat dead on the mark.  It’s never too much or too little.  The pacing is phenomenal and keeps the attention of the audience with every gradual revelation of the plot.  She also has a killer set of performers to tell this story, especially in her 4 leads.

That previous sentence may have made you take pause, but there are 4 leads for this production.  Kimberly Faith Hickman made the decision to double cast the two leads and each pairing takes one down a very interesting variant of the story.  In order to give readers a complete vision of this play, I watched the show twice so I could see how each set of leads interpreted the tale.

Mackenzie Dehmer is deadly accurate with her character choices in the role of Francesca.  She seems. . .not happy, but settled in her role as a farm wife.  She loves her children.  She loves her friends.  She even loves her husband, but it isn’t the same love that she once shared with him.  Her body language indicates that there is a void in her life that she doesn’t know how to fill.

Then Robert comes into her life.

Suddenly Ms Dehmer just lights up with passion and life as she now has someone with whom she can truly relate.  As their friendship grows, Ms Dehmer really makes you see the happiness blooming in her soul, yet it is still tinged with a thorn as she is always constantly aware of the potential effect on her family.  Her anguish as she wrestles with the decision to be with Robert or her family is heartbreakingly real and well essayed.

I think Ms Dehmer would have a fine career in opera with her devastating vocal range.  A natural alto who effortlessly hits soprano notes, Ms Dehmer shone musically as she wonders about Robert in “What Do You Call a Man Like That?”, consummates her relationship with him in “Falling Into You”, and sings about her haunting final decision in “Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles”.

Angela Jenson-Frey gives us a Francesca who is actually quite happy with her life.  Yes, she misses her native country, but is comfortable with her life in Iowa and is mostly satisfied with her choices in life.  When Robert appears in her life, there isn’t that immediate spark of attraction.  It is a friendship that quickly transforms into a passionate love.  Ms Jenson-Frey’s Francesca also seems a bit more assured in her decisions as her final choice seems to come a bit more easily and confidently.

Ms Jenson-Frey also has a beautiful soprano singing voice which she uses to full emotional potential in her numbers whether she’s gladly telling the audience part of her life story in “To Build a Home”, tenderly asking Robert to simply “Look At Me”, or sharing the rest of her life story with Robert in “Almost Real”.

I was crushed by James Verderamo’s take on Robert.  He projects a palpable aura of loneliness.  His Robert is a man who lives apart from the rest of the world.  He’s never in one place very long and has made the decision not to get involved with people because he always has to get to the next assignment.  His chemistry with Mackenzie Dehmer is pitch perfect as each truly seems to fill a missing part of the other.  When he falls for Francesca, you really feel the wonder of a man who is experiencing happiness for, perhaps, the first time in his life.

Verderamo’s tenor is velvet smooth and allowed him to emote his songs to the fullest.  Whether he is “Wondering” about Francesca or describing the life of a photographer in “The World Inside a Frame” or musing about his own mortality in “It All Fades Away”, Verderamo never failed to let the audience see his true thoughts and emotions.

Thomas Gjere’s Robert is far more content in his life.  While he is a bit of a wanderer, he is comfortable with the life he has chosen though he believes he isn’t the greatest company in the world.  What I liked best about this take is that Gjere’s Robert is quite likable and charming, but seems completely unaware of that fact due to his always focusing on the next assignment.  When he falls for Francesca, it seems to truly awaken himself to himself for the first time.

Gjere has a mellow low tenor that you could listen to for hours.  His phrasing is always perfectly precise and he makes you feel his budding happiness in “Temporarily Lost” and the full joy of his personal awakening in “Who We Are and Who We Want to Be”.

While this is primarily a two person show, a supporting cast does periodically appear to show what is going on outside Francesca & Robert’s world and sometimes get involved in it.  Kevin Olsen and Joey Hartshorn provide some levity as an older married couple who are neighbors of the Johnsons.  Ms Hartshorn is especially amusing as the busybody with a heart of gold and has a hilarious solo in “Get Closer”.  Mary Trecek belts out a great hoedown in “State Road 21/The Real World” and Analisa Peyton has a moving solo as Robert’s ex-wife in“Another Life” where she explains why she left him.

Jim Othuse crafts a realistic small town with the farmhouse of the Johnsons and a spot on replica of the Roseman Bridge.  I also liked how he created bars and other homes through the use of windows and bar counters.  Aja Jackson’s lights brilliantly support the story with sunrises, sunsets, and proper mood lighting during the show’s weightier and emotional moments.  Megan Kuehler’s costumes well suit a small town farming community with simple dresses for the adult women and t shirts and jeans for the men and kids.

As I said in the beginning, this is far more than a love story.  This is a story about two people who were missing something vital and found that missing piece in the other.  It is not about their love.  It is about what they will do with that love and it makes for a profound tale indeed.

The Bridges of Madison County continues through March 24.  Tickets start at $24 and vary by performance and seating zone.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets can be obtained at the OCP box office, online at www.omahaplayhouse.com, or calling the OCP box office at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Get Bent

Max is a liar and con man.  He is also a marked man as Nazi Germany has passed a law outlawing homosexuality and ordering homosexuals rounded up and sent to concentration camps.  Max will do whatever it takes to stay alive and out of the clutches of the Nazis, but one lover will cause Max to hide his true self while another will restore it.  But the cost is terrifyingly high.  Discover the price in Bent by Martin Sherman and currently playing at SNAP! Productions.

Sherman has written a neat little script that abounds with hope, tragedy, and even a touch of comedy along with some nice foreshadowing and surprises.  He also focuses on a lesser known bit of knowledge about Nazi Germany in that homosexuals were just as much of a target as the Jewish people with the twist that this group was viewed even less favorably.  Sherman uses an interesting conceit of having his primary characters have no accents despite their being German natives.  This adds an everyman quality to the characters showing that the evil and persecution they faced was a problem for humanity and not just a localized, national issue for Germany.

This play is uniquely suited to Joshua Mullady’s talents as a director as nobody knows how to craft character conversation scenes quite like him.  This is essential for this particular play as it is almost completely dialogue driven requiring a director who knows how to keep the life and energy pumping through the wordplay.  And Mullady does this in spades with his actors delivering extemporaneous dialogue with some of the sharpest cue pickups I have heard.

The entire cast does a fine job in supporting this story as each adds a precious bit of life to the production and all have absolutely perfect projection.  With that being said, I’d also like to salute Don Harris’ standout cameo performance as a bloodthirsty and psychotic Gestapo guard as he will make your blood boil with his cruelty and viciousness.

Ben Beck doesn’t even seem like he’s acting in this play as he is so natural and believable as Max.  He’s actually quite the scoundrel as he supports himself with cocaine dealing and con jobs and routinely lies like a rug.  But he also shows bits of a tender heart as he tries to help and save the two men in his life.  Unfortunately fate seems bound and determined to work against him as his own survival instinct crooks his efforts. This gives Beck the opportunity to beautifully sell two powerfully emotional scenes at the end of each act that are guaranteed to move even the coldest of hearts.

The two men in Max’s life require a bit of yin/yang quality and that quality is well embodied in the casting of Beau Fisher and Eric Grant-Leanna.

Beau Fisher plays Rudy, Max’s lover before his imprisonment by the Nazis.  Rudy’s function is to let Max be the strong protector.  Fisher embodies Rudy with a childlike innocence and trust in Max.  He is perfectly content to enjoy life as a dancer and watering his plants, fully trusting in Max to take care of the important things to ensure their survival.  But this childlike trust eventually destroys Rudy once he becomes the hunted as his happy-go-lucky existence renders him unable to fend for himself.  When he faces the ultimate challenge on his way to Dachau due to his need for glasses, Fisher’s screams and cries will chill you to the bone and his final fate will reduce you to a puddle of tears.

While Rudy allows Max to be the protector, the function of Horst, Max’s lover in Dachau, is to allow Max to be the protected.  Eric Grant-Leanna skillfully embodies this quality as he teaches Max how to survive in their personal piece of hell.  He’s tough.  He’s knowledgeable.  He’s loving.  He also helps Max to remember who he really is through his love which culminates in an incredibly and intense romantic scene made all the more stunning as it is done solely with the power of voice, words, and imagination as neither Max nor Horst ever touch each other.

I can’t say enough good things about the technical elements of this show.  Ben Adams’ set is a phenomenal, dilapidated flat that transforms into the barbed wire surrounded Dachau and in the midst of it all is the ominous pink triangle which marked all homosexuals in the concentration camps.  Zach Kloppenborg’s costumes are well suited to the era especially the costumes of the prisoners and stormtroopers.  As always, Joshua Mullady’s lights imbue the show with a special bit of life and Daena Schweiger’s sound design further bolsters the play, especially the air horns and crackle of the electrified barbed wire.

Though these voices be of the past, their words still ring loud and clear today. Our world is still very much in a war against evil and this play reminds us that we are still in the thick of a fight.  But it also reminds us that that fight can be won when good people bind together and counter it with faith, hope, peace, and love.

Bent plays at SNAP! Productions through Sept 17.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm.  Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students, seniors (55+), TAG members, and military, and $12 for all Thursday shows.   For tickets, call 402-341-2757 or visit www.snapproductions.com.  Due to strong language and mature themes, Bent is not recommended for children.  SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California Street in Omaha, NE.

An Independent Man in Independence, MO: The Silver Heart Inn

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It was a scorching summer’s day to start another of my little road trips.  But a little AC and some tunes made for a very quick and pleasant drive.

I was off to Independence, MO where I would be staying at the Silver Heart Inn, owned and operated by Perry and Melanie Johnson, as well as reviewing The Crucible for the Barn Players.

I only made one miscalculation for the trip.  With only an overnight stay planned, I had to be selective in the activities I chose to do.  I decided to visit the Truman Presidential Museum and Library and figured an hour would be enough time to get through it.

It was not enough time.

I did manage to get through Truman’s presidential years, but did not make it through the section detailing his personal life.  Rest assured, I will rectify this error if and when my travels bring me through this area again.

Truman was a very interesting President.  He was a common man who came from a period where you didn’t have to be wealthy to run for the Presidency.  He was a simple farmer who had deep ties to labor.  He wasn’t a good speaker.  He was put into power by a political machine, yet he was a incredibly honest man who vowed to get things done the right way.  Despite holding the prejudices of his time and place, Truman helped launch the Civil Rights movement after observing the horrible treatment of black people after World War II.  He made the decision to drop the atomic bomb.  Truman also had the biggest upset in political history when he was reelected to the Presidency in his own right when it was believed he would be crushed by his opponent, Thomas Dewey.  This was due to his Whistlestop Campaign where he rode a train through numerous communities to share his message, sometimes speaking at a dozen stops a day.

What I found most interesting about Truman was that he seemed to have no aspirations to be President.  It was his everyman quality (especially his ties to farming and labor) that secured his nomination for the Vice Presidency.  In reality, the Democrats were really looking for the next President as it was obvious FDR would not be long for the world.  In fact, he died shortly after he was reelected to his fourth term.

I also had great respect for Truman’s decency.  When his term of office expired, he was not a wealthy man and could have earned fat fees doing public speaking tours, but he refused to trade on the office of President.  Instead, he founded the Presidential Library which was the first in our country and I look forward to completing my tour of the museum some future day.

About 3pm, I headed to Silver Heart Inn to check in.  I pulled into the parking area, sidestepped a few chickens wandering about the property, and headed to the back door entrance where I was quickly greeted and led to my room.

I had been expecting to stay in the Roy Gamble Room, but was upgraded to the Napolian Stone Room instead.  It was one of the smaller rooms I had stayed in, but I enjoyed the rich brown of the walls, the soft and comfortable queen bed, and the gas fireplace.  I made my normal explorations and then killed a couple of hours reading Face to Face by Ellery Queen and brushing up on Silver Heart Inn’s history.

The Silver Heart Inn was built 1856 by local businessman, Napolian Stone.  The house used to be twice its original size and originally built in a T formation.  That changed when Judge George Jennings, the house’s owner in 1923 had the house split in half and moved to the same side of the street.  This was done as Jennings recognized that Noland Street (where the home is located) was becoming Independence’s main thoroughfare.  The inn, itself, was the back wing of the house.  The front wing fell into disrepair and was destroyed in the 1960s.

At 5pm, I headed off for an early dinner.  I once again dined at Corner Café, which you may remember from my trip to Liberty, MO about a year ago.

The restaurant was packed so I took advantage of my solo status to dine at the counter.  I ordered the Turkey Melt, one of the house specials, with a side of loaded French Fries.  Within five minutes of my hour, a plate of piping hot food appeared which I relished as I continued to read my novel.

Once fed, I drove to Mission, KS to enjoy another stellar production by the Barn Players.  It was one of the finest dramas I had ever watched and I could not wait to get back to the inn to start writing.  You can read the review here.

After I finished writing, I curled up in my bed for a restful night’s slumber.

When I awoke the next morning, I drew a hot bath and enjoyed a long soak before wandering downstairs in search of breakfast.

Breakfast was a rather pleasant, if quiet, affair.  I continued reading my mystery as I enjoyed a dish of yogurt, blueberries, granola, and cream for an appetizer followed by the main entrée of turkey sausage (I think) and an Eggs Benedict omelet served with goblets of water and orange juice.  After this tasty affair, I settled up my bill and headed off to worship services at St Mark’s before heading for home.

I definitely would recommend a stay at Silver Heart Inn if you find yourself in the Independence area.  It’s quiet and comfortable and you’ll get yourself a tasty meal (and some other perks offered by the inn if you’re so inclined).  You’ll just be minutes away from the Truman Museum and can’t pick up a little history if you wish.

Until the next time, happy travels.

This Operation is a Bittersweet Triumph

Imagine that it’s a night like any other night.  Suddenly a warning siren begins to blare throughout the night sky.  You begin to hear loud whistles growing closer and closer.  Then explosions rip through the air.  Buildings collapse around you.  The ground shakes with the force of an earthquake.  Your heart feels as if it will burst through your chest as your life flashes before your eyes.  If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the terror of the Sheffield Blitz.  Operation Crucible by Kieran Knowles lets the audience experience those horrifying nights through the eyes of four young steelworkers.  It is currently playing at the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

Knowles’ script can best be compared to a runaway freight train.  It starts at a fever pitch and keeps you holding on for dear life until the bitter end.  Be prepared for a most unique night of theatre as Knowles’ script completely rewrites the rules of the game.  The fourth wall dissolves as the actors interact with the audience.  The set consists of a few benches and chairs which the performers manipulate to create the scenes in conjunction with vivid vocal descriptions.  The time of the play rapidly shifts back and forth from present to past and from reality to memories.

Lara Marsh has constructed a powerhouse show as she shares Knowles’ tale of the Sheffield Blitz.  Occurring on the nights of December 12 and 15, this event was the devastating bombing of Sheffield, England (the munitions center of the country during World War II) by the German Luftwaffe.  Ms Marsh’s meticulous direction leaves no beat unearthed in the telling of this heavy tale.  The staging is unbelievable as her 4 actors make full use of the tiny performance space in an exhausting feat of acting as these men are constantly on the move from start to finish.  Ms Marsh has also led her thespians to sterling performances making for one of the best pieces of ensemble acting I’ve seen in quite a spell.

Before getting into individual performances, it’s important to understand the effectiveness of this ensemble.  This play has long stretches of broken, fragmented dialogue with cues that don’t follow a normal flow of conversation.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such tight cue pickups from a cast as these gentleman just came in right on top of each other on all but a couple of occasions.  This is doubly impressive when one considers that there were often no clues to tip the actors off to their next line.  Their physicality was also splendid as the actions and scenes of this story are told largely through the body language of the performers as they paint pictures of luxury hotels, the work of a munitions mill, or the crippling injuries from being caught in a collapsing building.

Daniel Sukup is outstanding in his BSB debut as Tommy.  Sukup imbues Tommy with a wonderful sense of playfulness as he leads the hazing of the new boy, Bob, at the mill.  He’s also an incredible observer of human nature, depending on his ability to judge character to assess situations and form relationships.  Yet he also uses that talent to see to the heart of people in order to keep them at arm’s length.  Tommy’s gregarious nature is also somewhat of a mask that hides his desperate loneliness as he has no family and perpetually grieves a father lost to the horrors of war.  Sukup’s ability to switch from the fun-loving prankster to the haunted and lonely man at a moment’s notice is nothing short of uncanny.

Eddie McGonigal’s Bob is a wonderful treat for the audience.  He’s just full of sunshine and optimism and brightens situations just by stepping into a room.  McGonigal does a superlative job of portraying Bob’s innocence and naiveté.  As the new guy, McGonigal’s Bob is subject to a few practical jokes to test his mettle at the mill, but comes through them with flying colors, especially with his tireless efforts on the job.  Nothing gets Bob down for long and, even in the heart of mortal peril, his positivity serves to buoy the spirits of his friends in their darkest hour.  But McGonigal also gets to shine in a dramatic moment when Bob shares a story about his dog.  Be sure to have a tissue ready.

Eric Grant-Leanna expands his resume by another top flight performance with his interpretation of Phil.  I found Phil to be the most interesting character in the show as he is a Scotsman which makes him the outsider of the group as his friends are all British.  I found this very apropos as Phil certainly feels like an outsider due to the fact that he was drafted to go fight before a foot injury rerouted him to the mill.  Grant-Leanna does an exceptional job revealing the self-doubt that is constantly on Phil’s shoulders as he tries to make himself believe that he was not a coward for not being able to fight.  Indeed, so heavy is this doubt that Phil’s final monologue in the aftermath of the bombing had me slumping in my seat as he made a defining choice about his life.

There aren’t many who can pack intensity into a role like Daniel Dorner.  Making a rare appearance on stage, Dorner plays the role of Arthur, the leader of the group.  Dorner’s Arthur is a pillar of strength for these four friends as he grew up dirt poor yet has such strength of spirit as he always believed that someone always had it worse.  That nobility serves Arthur well as he suffers a horrific leg injury partway through the show and struggles to work through it.  Dorner sells the injury flawlessly, dragging and/or limping on the useless limb for the remainder of the play.

Charleen Willoughby’s workingmen costumes suit the era of the play to a T.  Darrin Golden’s lights are magic from the red hot glow of a forge to the yellow alert for the bombing raid to the stale shine of a single light bulb when the men are trapped in a hotel.  Eric Griffith’s sounds enhance the play’s story and drew me so deeply into it I actually jumped at a few moments when the attacks and destruction began.

Director Lara Marsh had said this play would help the audience see World War II from the British side and that it certainly does.  It is a tale of friendship, tragedy, and the strength of the human spirit.  It also removes the blinders and shows that the horrors of war often transcend the battlefield.

Operation Crucible will be performed by the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at the Jewish Community Center through Nov 19.  Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm.  There will be a 6:30pm performance on Sunday, Oct 23.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors (65+)/Military).  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-502-4910 or visit the website at www.bsbtheatre.com.  The Jewish Community Center is located at 333 S 132nd St in Omaha, NE.

Prepare to be Blitzed

The Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company will take you back in time to World War II and to Sheffield, England to experience the devastation of the Sheffield Blitz through the eyes of 4 young steelworkers.  The play is Operation Crucible by Kieran Knowles and will begin its run on October 21 at the Jewish Community Center.

The Sheffield Blitz is a reference to the worst nights of the German Luftwaffe bombing of Sheffield on the nights of December 12 and 15 in 1940.  Sheffield, a steelworks town, was targeted due to its manufacturing of armaments.  In particular, Sheffield was the only city in the UK that made 18 inch armor piercing shells.  The code name for the operation was Schmelztiegel, the German word for crucible.

Prepare yourself for a unique theatre experience as 4 actors (Daniel Sukup, Eric Grant-Leanna, Daniel Dorner, and Eddie McGonigal) share the horrific nights of the bombing on a nearly empty stage using the power of just their voices and bodies.  As director Lara Marsh stated, “I needed 4 actors who could keep up with the physicality of the play. . .who could play different characters. . .who could pantomime.”

Telling a story without benefit of scenery and extremely limited props is quite the chore, but definitely an enticing challenge.  “This is the type of theatre I want to get into. . .I hate the fourth wall,” said Daniel Sukup.

And this play certainly blurs, if not obliterates, the fourth wall.  The play eschews the normal narrative style as the story turns from the nights of the bombings to events in the past to memories of the play’s characters in rapid-fire succession.  In discussing the difficulties of the play, actor Eric Grant-Leanna said, “Memorizing lines [is the toughest].  In most plays, your cues come from an actor saying something to you, but that isn’t the case here.  You’ve got to know what to say and when you’re supposed to say it and you can’t paraphrase because you’ll be losing something.”

Actor Eddie McGonigal furthered that thought when he said, “You’ve got to know your lines and your intentions from the very start.”

Director Lara Marsh believes in sharing stories worth telling and hopes the audience “learns something about the war from the British side.  We know all about it from the American side.”

Operation Crucible opens on October 21 and runs through November 19.  The show will take place under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at the Jewish Community Center located at 333 S 132nd St in Omaha, NE.  Showtimes are Fri and Sat at 7:30pm with one Sunday performance on Oct 23 at 6:30pm.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors (65+)/Military).  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-502-4910 or visit the website at www.bsbtheatre.com.

What Have We Learned?

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Nils Haaland stars as Arturo Ui in “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” at the Blue Barn Theatre

A lowly gangster rises to power in Chicago with the conquering of the greengrocery trade.  This is the story of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht and is currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

Yes, I realize the plot sounds like a comedy, but it’s not.  This play is a satire on the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and is actually one of the gutsiest pieces of literature ever written as Brecht wrote it in 1941, shortly after Hitler gained ascendancy in Europe.

This play is vintage Blue Barn as it is challenging, make you think theatre with an experimental flavor.  Brecht has a very real/unreal style to his writing and you may find the story a bit confusing.  However, there is a detailed explanation on what to expect from the production in the program and moments from Hitler’s rise to power are projected onto a screen after every major scene to demonstrate the parallels between the play and reality.

I don’t think Susan Clement-Toberer could give flawed direction even if she tried.  Once more, her gift for nuance and character shows itself in a tour de force effort.  The staging is quite clever as she manages to fit her rather large cast onto the narrow dock that is Martin Scott Marchitto’s set.  I found the use of video footage to parallel Ui and Hitler to be quite beneficial and she once again leads a powerhouse cast to a series of strong performances.

While largely an ensemble piece, this show rests on the shoulders of the actor playing Arturo Ui and one could not find a better choice for the role than Nils Haaland.  Haaland once again throws himself into a role as he utterly transforms himself into Ui.  He nimbly handles the long and difficult wordplay of Ui with astonishing ease and displays new facets of the character almost every time you blink.

Haaland is just a sad piece of work at the play’s start as he laments being a common criminal out of the public eye.  Once he finds an in to the greengrocery trade, Haaland evolves (perhaps devolves?) Ui from a two bit hood to an inhuman monster as his power base grows.  The fleeting signs of humanity Haaland shows at the beginning of the show rapidly vanish as he is willing to betray and kill allies and friends to achieve his dream of conquering the nation.

Mike Markey does a superior piece of character acting as Old Dogsborough.  Markey hides his fitness well as the elderly, infirm Dogsborough who unintentionally provides Ui the means to start taking over the greengrocery trade.  Markey does an excellent job showing an extremely honest man buckle under the temptation of material gain.  From there, Markey’s body language shows a man slowly dying a living death as his body sags and collapses with each future appearance due to his guilt of letting Ui get his hooks into him due to one greedy choice.

Daena Schweiger’s performance as Emanuelle Giri is not to be missed.  Ms Schweiger is chilling as the psychopathic Giri who’s notable for a fetish for hats and a piercing, knifelike laugh.  Her Giri has no redeeming qualities and possesses a lust for power not unlike Ui’s own as she plots the death of a rival in Ui’s camp.

Jens Rasmussen makes his mark with his Blue Barn debut as Givola, another crony of Ui.  Rasmussen’s sense of movement is second to none as he has grace and fluidity which is all the more impressive given the beautiful limp he gives his character.  Rasmussen’s performance is quite memorable as he makes his Givola a potent blend of oily suck-up and Machiavelli.

Other strong ensemble performances come from Brennan Thomas who plays Ui’s right hand man, Ernesto Roma.  Roma’s penchant for danger and violence is matched only by his extreme loyalty to Ui.  One could argue that he is Ui’s one true friend which means absolutely nothing to that animal in human clothing.  Jennifer Gilg also shines in several character roles, but is particularly good as Betty Dullfleet, a criminal from another city who tries to stop Ui’s rise, but ultimately succumbs to his will.  J.J. Davis provides a bit of welcome levity as Ted Ragg, a reporter who bravely needles Ui.  Paul Boesing’s rich voice is suited to his roles as the show’s narrator and a classical actor who teaches poise and presence to Ui.

The Blue Barn clearly felt that the circumstances that led to Hitler’s rise are present in today’s political atmosphere with some subtle references in the actor’s costumes and a rather charged and colorful closing speech from Haaland.  It’s truly spooky to think that an evil like Hitler was able to rise to power and nearly won.  It’s even spookier to think that the present world climate could give rise to another like him.  As the play’s title suggests, Hitler could have been resisted.  As you watch this play and see what it tries to teach, ask yourself, “What have we learned?”

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui plays at the Blue Barn through October 16.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm.  There is no show on Sept 25.  Tickets cost $30 for adults and $25 for students, seniors (65+), T.A.G. members, and groups of ten or more.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 from 10am-4pm Mon-Fri or visit www.bluebarn.org.  Due to strong language and adult situations, this show is not recommended for children.  The Blue Barn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th Street in Omaha, NE.