THE BASICS: This is the WNY premiere of Shirley Lauro’s 2006 stylistic, female-centric memory-drama of the Third Reich. Produced by the Brazen Faced Varlets company, NIGHT plays on the main stage at Alleyway Theatre, weekends through Oct. 24th. Varlet co-founder Lara Haberberger directs a cast of five. The play, with its single ten minute intermission, runs a full 2 ½ hours.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: In ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT, we follow the lives of four young German Gentile women, first as teens and subsequently young adults, through the dark days of Nazi ascent and rule. The action unfolds in a series of dreamlike vignettes that become progressively darker, more nightmarish as Hitler tightens his grip on the Fatherland. A fifth woman, older, plays a variety of authoritarian figures, the Fraus. She is the poster-woman for the Nazi regime, and, as the action proceeds, her roles grow progressively more powerful and menacing. The young women, faced with extraordinary, heartbreaking choices, succumb to the New Order in variable degrees, and in so doing, their lives are changed forever.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: Playwright Lauro looks for a fresh take on a very well worked-over historical period.The play is based on her interviews of German Gentile women, similar to the ones we meet here. The approach takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it works. That said, the non-representational quality of the piece, with its bobbing and weaving through multiple lives, did pose some problems for me. Things are made worse by the fact that several important characters and relationships are only referenced. Staying “up to speed” was sometimes quite difficult. There is very little in the way of real stage action, and very little leavening humor. Some of the interior stories are truly depressing. The evening does not fly by.
The cast is clearly up to the challenge; this is a very capable, all-of-a-piece ensemble.
The cast is clearly up to the challenge; this is a very capable, all-of-a-piece ensemble. There is an excess of screaming now and again, and some “big” character work that I found jarring rather than funny. But these are minor quibbles. Kathleen Rooney, as the multiple Frau characters, is a particular stand-out, a fierce patriot and a master of quiet control. Jessie Miller’s long-suffering nurse, Angelika, also makes a strong impression.
Kudos to director Haberburger for seeing all the parallels to our present situation, and at last bringing this pet project of hers to the stage. The austere, somewhat chilling set with its Nazi-red accent lighting is by Heather Fangsrud. Production values are high throughout.
IN SUM: A fresh but gloomy take on a very famous period, NIGHT has been mounted with style by the brave Varlets, and should appeal to thoughtful audiences. Those looking for a little feel-good, end-of-pandemic entertainment should not apply.
Lead image courtesy Brazen-Faced Varlets
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!