Saturday, October 01, 2005

Forbidden - Red Hen Theatre

Red Hen Theatre tries hard, but stumbles with ‘Forbidden’

Theatres often have a specific mission. Kalliope Stage does American musicals. The Jewish Community Center’s drama program concentrates on plays written by or about Jews. Red Hen Productions is this area’s voice of feminism. It’s not that other theatres don’t do feminist plays, but Red Hen dedicates themselves to this cause.

One of the imperatives of a theatre which wants to have a voice is not only to have a mission, but to select plays that are well written and say something, and then make sure they are well performed.
Unfortunately for Red Hen, in spite of their best intentions, ‘FORBIDDEN’ by Pat Rowe fails on two of these three criteria. The play does have an interesting premise which fits into the Red Hen parameters, but is not well written or staged.

Set in Berlin near the end of World War II, a relationship develops between Felice and Lily. One is Jewish, the other is not. Erich, Felice’s best friend and would-be lover, wants her to break for the border with him. Felice refuses to leave, supposedly because of her love for Lily. Inevitably, their fragile arrangement cannot withstand the pressure of the round-ups of Jews and homosexuals. Felice is taken off to a camp where she eventually dies. Lily lives out her life perpetuating a mental image of their relationship.

Originally documented by the journalist, Erika Fischer, in her book ‘AIMEE AND JAGUAR’, the story later became a German feature film of the same name.

This is Pat Rowe’s first play. Her lack of playwrighting skills shines through. The script is fragmented, the transitions between scenes are often unclear, much of the language is in written form rather than an oral style, many of the staging requirements make for a lack of reality, and some of the dialogue is trite.

The production itself is also problematic. Director Karen Gygli has failed to probe deeply into the characters and some of the performers have difficulty developing and maintaining characterizations. She also creates problems through questionable staging decisions. A picture supposedly of the two women appears suddenly on the wall of their apartment. The picture is obviously not of the two women we have seen. In the previous scene, Lily appears on stage in a white bathing suit, but the picture on the wall has two women who look nothing like the characters and are both dressed in black swim wear. Jews wore the well-documented yellow star. In this production the star was white and suddenly appeared in the last scene when it had to have been worn by Lily when she was taken away. In one scene Felice crosses her fingers as a sign of good luck. Jews do not use this gesture
as it is a Christian symbol. The off-stage voices of the children and party-goers did not work to create reality.

As for the acting, Liz Conway is generally effective as Felice. In most scenes she develops a consistent character. Elizabeth Wood is not as consistent as Lily. She often acts, rather than reacts to her lines, allowing for hollow interpretations. This is especially true in the ending scene when she is supposedly an old lady looking back. Because of the structure of the play, the actress is not given time to make any physical changes through makeup and clothing. Quivering hands and trying to create a crack in the voice do not an old women make.

Dan Kilbane is believable as Erich, though a little more emotional strength might convince us of his ability to live through the round-ups and act as a member of the resistance. Heather Peterson and Kevin Coughlin are acceptable in their multi-roles.

Nicole McLaughlin, portraying Friedl, Lily’s neighbor, is much too young for the role. A bad wig and poor makeup to compensate for her age does not cover up this miscasting.

The multi-platform set is poorly constructed and aids in making the action unbelievable. The lapping
curtains instead of doors is distracting.

The playbill is excellent, presenting a good discussion of the play and the playwright as well as a digest of the Jews in Germany from 1933 to 1942.