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The Internet Theater Magazine Of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

. A CurtainUp DC  Review
The Magic Fire

by Susan Davidson

Lillian Garrett-Groag -- remember the name -- has written a very interesting play.  As an actor, director and producer she understands the basics of what makes a play work. As a member of the Second Generation,  the sons and daughters of those who fled Europe before, during, or just after the Second World War, she understands ambivalence towards one's heritage and the inherent conflicts between those who cling to what they hold dear -- their culture, their way of life, their past. Their sense of alienation as they fail to assimilate in their new home, Buenos Aires, is palpable.

The Magic Fire, an allusion to Wagnerian opera, begins with a monologue from Lise, a grown woman or, one surmises, the playwright looking back from the vantage point of adulthood to her life as a child in Argentina.  In a home redolent of Mittel Europa -- heavy drapes, clinking teacups -- young Lise is surrounded by relatives, some Catholic, some Jewish, who fled their native Vienna and, in the case of
the grandmother, a village in Italy.  It is a very adult home, not the sort of place a kid might find "fun."  But young Lise is precocious, she asks questions, and what she often gets in return is evasions for this
cadre of adults has put on the blinders. They concentrate very hard, focussing on what they find beautiful while shutting out that which they abhor.   They speak only of that which they want to remember of their homeland; they look back with enormous affection on the unreal world of opera but choose not to speak of the real ring of fire, the politics of Nazism, that surrounded them.

Culture is what they cling to but alienation is what they feel.  The father, who must deal with the realities of what is taking place outside the cosseted life other family members lead, does not share his angst with them. Instead, he makes arrangements for all of them to emigrate once again.  One can empathize with this  family's plight in 1952, in Buenos Aires.  "No politics, no religion," the mother warns all at the dinner table.  And yet this family cannot avoid either, since their fate was and is determined by both.

Memory deceives. It cannot be trusted.  And that is, I think, Garrett-Groag's point.  Not even by an adult (or playwright)  looking back on  her youth. The Magic Fire is, in many ways, an old fashioned
play.  It has three talky acts (interspersed with humor); a beginning, a middle, and an end but with a  running time of three hours, is a bit too long.    And it is extremely well done.  The cast is uniformly good, especially Alyn McKenna Bartell, as the precocious ten-year old (who turns into the playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag)  most adults would like to throttle.  No wonder she became a playwright!

Supported by the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays, The Magic Fire is, without a doubt, the best new play this reviewer has seen at the Center in many years.
by Lillian Garrett-Groag
Directed by Libby Appel
With Ken Albers, Alyn McKenna Bartell, Judith-Marie Bergan, Catherine E.Coulson, Eileen DeSandre, Anthony Heald, Richard Howard, Michael J.Hume, Dee Maaske, Demetra Pittman, Robynn Rodriguez, Vilma Silva, and Antonina Whitmore
Scenic Design: Richard L. Hay
Costume Design: Deborah M. Dryden
Lighting Design: Ann G. Wrightson
Sound Design: Sara Jane Schmeltzer
Additional Music by Todd Barton
Voice and Text Direction: Nancy Benjamin
Movement Direction: John Sipes
Original Choreography: Xedex
Additional Choreography: David Hochoy
Opened at The Kennedy Center, November 7, closes December 6, 1998. 
Reviewed by Susan Davidson, November 18, 1998
Commissioned and originally produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Magic Fire was developed by The Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays. New productions are scheduled on the boards at the Guthrie Theatre, the Berkley Rep and the Old Globe.

©November 1998, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from esommer@pipeline.com

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