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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Drums in the Night

By David Avery

They believe they are exposing a new world, hidden beneath then one they are tearing down.— Babusch, on the Spartacist Uprising

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Angela Berliner and Jarreth Merz in "Drums in the Night"
Angela Berliner and Jarreth Merz in Drums in the Night
Photo by Jean-Louis Darville
Bertolt Brechtís Drums in the Night is one of his first plays. A story of broken promises, crushed ideals, and compromised love set against the backdrop of the Spartacist uprising, it is arguably the beginning of what would later be known as "Brechtian theater."

A young Anna (Angela Berliner) is under pressure from her parents (Andrew E. Wheeler and Vanessa Mizzone as Mr. and Mrs. Balicke, respectively) to marry a wealthy and influential businessman named Murk (Chris Schultz). Anna, though attracted to Murk and his wealth, clings to the memory of Andreas Kragler (Jarreth Merz) who has been MIA in African fighting for four years. As Murk and Mr. Balicke plan how to convert from war profiteering to peace profiteering, Andreas inconveniently reappears to claim Anna.

The handsome production uses a blown-out iron faÁade to separate the front of the stage from the rear— suggesting both the ravages of war and the decay of the wealthy at the same time. Gloomy lighting effects give a nightmarish quality to the action. Many of the actors are in heavy makeup — as if in a vaudeville production — to emphasize the cartoonish of their personalities, and perhaps to remind us that the playwright would later write such gems as The Threepenny Opera.

The play's themes are fairly broad, encompassing corrupt businessmen and those who risk their lives and die for ideals . The setting is pretty far removed from here and now (unless people have been studying early 20th century German politics). Iím not sure if the specifics of class struggle translate very well into modern times, but the concepts of political deceit and betrayal of public trust should resonate with current events.

The actors make much of the material. The contrast between Kragler, Mr. Balicke, and Murk provides interesting tension. Andrew E Wheelerís portrayal of Mr. Balicke depicts old-school entitlement; he is someone who thinks the nature order of things places him on top of the pile. His innate pragmatism is demonstrated when he tells his daughter "Love is about the last man standing," and "Cuts are free; itís the lights that bleed me dry." Chris Schultzís Murk is a more vicious version of the "businessman." He revels in his new found wealth, saying "I am a prophet, making my own profit." He seems much harder and more sinister than his older counterpart. There is even a hint that the long postponed commitment to marriage is more his idea than due to the devotion of Anna.

Jarreth Merz Kragler is the focus of the other charactersí attention. He projects a world weary attitude, someone who want nothing but to resume his previously life. That life is gone forever, and itís loss sends him into the streets to take up with the revolutionists. His best moment is towards the end of the play when, in true Brechtian fashion, he addresses the audience directly and tells us that all we are seeing is a lie.

Jon Kellman has added some nice touches to the production, with characters breaking out into song (or rapping), and several other surprises that should be experienced first hand. It all reminds us that Brecht liked to involve his audience in the show.

Drums in the Night fits right in with other of the Actorsí Gang recent war-themed productions (Embedded comes to mind). Though its message may have been aimed at an audience and at times that are long past, modern audiences can take some of its lessons to heart.

DRUMS IN THE NIGHT
Director: Jon Kellam
Playwright: Bertolt Brecht
Translated by: Finegan Kruckmeyer
Cast: Annemette Andersen (Maid/Marie), Angela Berliner (Anna), Jeff Branion (Babusch), Ben Cain (Glubb), George Ketsios (Waiter/Bulltrotter), Jarreth Merz (Kragler), Vanessa Mizzone (Mrs. Balicke/Auguste), Chris Schultz (Murk/Drunk), Andrew E. Wheeler (Mr. Balicke/Skanke)
Scenic Design: Sibyl Wickersheimer
Costume Design: Rhonda Dynice Brooks
Lighting Design: Jenny Bloom
Composer/Sound Design: Gary DeMichele
Running Time: Two hours, fifteen minutes (with one intermission)
Running Dates: November 11th through January 27th
Times: Schedule varies, contact theater for specific dates
Where: Actorsí Gang, Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230
Tel.:310-8384264
Web: www.theactorsgang.com

Reviewed by David Avery on November 19, 2006.
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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