Tuesday, October 06, 2009

On-Stage: All Through the Night

Nobody exists in a moral vacuum, especially not the German citizens living under the Third Reich. Though not technically on the frontlines, several German Gentile women confront very difficult moral choices that may well take them into harm’s way in the Red Fern Theatre Company’s production of Shirley Lauro’s All Through the Night, which opened last night at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater.

Following the National Socialist rise to power, the Germany educational system has become a willing instrument of Nazi indoctrination. Two girls were skeptical of the force-fed propaganda, while a third embraced it wholeheartedly. With the help of Ludmilla, the matronly neighborhood baker, the three women, now grown adults, relive their experiences coming of age while the atrocities of the Holocaust unfolded around them.

As a young woman, Angelika is not overtly political, but when her baby son is vaguely diagnosed as either physically or mentally handicapped, she receives harsh lesson in the nature of the regime. Friederike harbors few illusions about National Socialism, having married a Roma man. Now she must bribe the camp guards to allow her furtive visits. By contrast, Gretchen is a blind follower, enthusiastically working on behalf of Fuhrer and Fatherland in the Nazi Women’s Auxiliary. As for our narrator, though Ludmilla does small acts of mercy for the emaciated prisoners she sees marching through the streets, she pines for victory so her husband can finally return to her.

Lauro’s fundamental point comes through loud and clear. While all four protagonists are unexceptional middle or working class women, they still know more than enough to fully comprehend what was happening. They are not allowed the excuse of ignorance. ATTN is also notable for addressing some lesser known horrors of the National Socialist era, including their ideological contempt for disability and aggressive “euthanasia” policies. Unfortunately, Lauro’s text can be a bit awkward at times, requiring actors to speak a fair amount of set description, literally telling the audience: “I see . . .” Still, there are some passages of sharp insight, as when observing how quiet the American soldiers are compared to the boot-clicking Germans.

Ultimately, ATTN’s strong (all women) cast overcomes the play’s occasional wordiness. Andrea Sooch strikingly projects the smugness of evil in the play’s collected authority figures, including Gretchen’s commanding officer (and sexual harasser) in the Nazi Women’s Corp. Michelle Lookadoo brings a fair amount of nuance to the resistance-minded Friederike, while also courageously playing a truly disturbing scene of abusive humiliation at the hands of the Nazis. Yet it is Hana Kalinski who really delivers the dramatic goods as Angelika, the heartbroken mother.

Combining elements of the memory play with the multi-character drama, ATTN is a thoughtful examination of the moral dilemmas and very real consequences faced by averages women during a period of national insanity. Effectively directed by Melanie Moyer Williams, it features some very fine stage performances by its small ensemble cast. Now officially open, ATTN is a worthy night of theater that runs through October 25th at the Marjorie Deane in the Westside Y.

(Photo credit: Nathan Johnson)