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LETTERS TO EDITOR
The Man Who Never Yet Saw a Woman's Nakedness
by Laura Hitchcock
The remarkable work of German playwright Moritz Rinke is a breath of fresh air, even in this five-year-old work receiving its American premiere at The Odyssey Theatre in cooperation with The Goethe Institute.
His dramatic examination of self-absorption, both personally and in society at large, takes place in a theater. Felix, the director of Romeo and Juliet, is stunned by the sudden appearance of Helmbrecht, a medieval time traveler fleeing Roman conquerors. The boyish Helbrecht has a voice high as a child's and is childlike in the way he mimics Felix. He imitates the new world without understanding it. At times he seems to be repeating phrases he's picked up from the culture like some short-wave radio: lines from old TV shows, commercials, answering machines.
Felix accepts this strange would-be clone until the arrival of his girlfriend Anna, who is playing Juliet. They don't get along but when she turns to Helmbrecht, he forgets his customary advice to be casually guarded and never lose his reserve. Helmbrecht is transformed and brought alive.
"Hold earth still! Take off your shoes!" He says of love. It doesn't matter that the world is literally collapsing outside the theatre. The Empire State Building has fallen into a hole in the ground, Sacramento has evaporated. The lovers love, the actors act.
"Live beauty! Dress it up!" Anna advises. Helmbrecht, quick study that he is, partners her in the balcony scene from R&J.
The youthful playwright seems to use u his conception in the first act. Act II, a series of scenes in which Anna leaves Helmbrecht for the more powerful Felix and Helmbrecht returns as Valentino, seem to repeat the theme of Act I.
The fierce delicate direction of young German director Amelie Niermeyer and the excellent American cast give this play the best production it may ever see. Keir O'Donnell, superbly cast as the boychild in medieval armor, displays a seamless dexterity in the disjointed monologues and manic physicality the role demands. Lindsay Beamish, with her high doll's voice and elfin figure, provides both an ideal mate for Helmbrecht and a reed who bends in the wind of director Felix, the control freak, whose portrayal by Michael Don Evans lends a solid balance to the ensemble.
Maria Bahra, brought from Germany by director Niermeyer, has designed a powerful set in which the performers' stage is drenched in color while their backstage area is lined with refrigerators and beams. The sets make their own statement. German costume designer Kristine Upesleja's vivid costumes reinforce the Laurel and Hardy air that animates the piece. Meredith Oakes' remarkable British translation was adapted for the American premiere by Laura Berman.
Rinke, whose new play Republik Vineta may be done in New York next year, was voted Best German Author of the 2001/2002 by Theater Heute, the monthly magazine representing critics of all German-speaking countries. His exceptional flair for lyric language and his texture of social issues and personal obsessions expressed in the highly dramatic and comedic language of the mime and the clown make him a playwright to watch.