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A CurtainUp Review
Outside Inn

Who is my father?—a question by Kathleen, whose mather disappeared when she was a child, and for whom the play's unseen but crucial character, Kalowski, figured as a father.
Outside Inn
Karen Sieber and Roger Grunwald
(Photo: Marcu Hirnigel)
Billed as "a murder mystery that leaps across three continents," Outside Inn promises to be an entertainment to keep you at the edge of your seat. Given the fairly miniscule stage of 59E59's Theater B and the modest resources usually available for production in this popular multiplex's smallest spaces, accomplishing those global leaps is bound to be challenging. To pump up expectations for an intriguingly staged, attention-holding story the advance promotional copy hints that the mystery swirls around a Svengali-like tycoon and includes an extra-marital romance and stolen identities.

The story does indeed take us to those three continents (a town in Germany, another near the Arizona-Mexican border and Namibia, a former German colony), and overarching the tangled relationships of the play's four characters —a civil engineer named Paul (Markus Hirnigel), his wife Kathleen (Jenny Lee Mitchell), a Kansas-born banker named Chris (Roger Grunwald) and his wife Marina Karen Sieber) — two men and two women characters are all linked to that of Kalowski, the never seen but much talked about mystery tycoon.

The problem is that, as often happens with plays commissioned with an educational mission in mind, Outside Inn falls victim to its several ambitions. Andreas Jungwirth's play smartly connects the various histories of these characters into a thriller with plenty of puzzle pieces to put together. However, director Melanie Dreyer's production is so self-consciously stylistic that it seems bent on making the story more confusing than it needs to be, and less interesting than it could be.

The initial mission — to explore contemporary German and American culture and by having four bilingual actors perform the play in both languages and in both counries has multiplied. It was after the cast did a dual-language performance that the the International Culture Lab team decided that in merging the languages for 59E59's for English-speaking audience they could also expand their exploratory mission: First, to juxtapose naturalistic and Brechtian acting styles (the assumption being that the naturalistic style is typically American, while the abstract Brechtian techniques are more distinctly German); second, by having the actors speak mostly English, the foreign language dialogue could become an expressive and lyric element; finally, to support the first two aims, multi-media would become a primary rather than a secondary design component.

All these explorations are fine in a theater studies program but all these exploratory ideas don't work particularly well in a theater geared to theater goers rather than theater technique students. The long monologues that introduce more direct action and Brechtian elements get in the way of pulling the audience into the story (having the characters stepping through doors shaped from what looks like coat hanger metal, or using the actors not in a scene to photograph those who are). .

With so many creative missions packed into the 80-minute play, you would not be remiss to read symbolic meaning into the title, even though it refers to an actual place —a large restaurant near the Arizona-Mexican border where Paul assumes the identity of the mysterious Kalowski, hoping to find a new life, like the Mexicans trying to cross the border to America.

The actors are all excellent. The multi-media aspects of the production do serve many purposes which includes projections of the German dialogue. At one point an actual news marquee about the current banking crisis is shown — an amusing ironic touch in the light of the big business aspects that are important plot points. However, while well done, the filmic elements leave one wondering if Outside Inn wouldn't work a lot better as a film.

Outside Inn
by Andreas Jungwirth
Directed by Melanie Dreyer
Cast: Roger Grunwald (Chris) , Markus Hirnigel (Paul) , Jenny Lee Mitchell (Kathleen) and Karen Sieber (Marina)
\Sets: Stephanie Mayer
Costumes: Pei-Chi Su
Lighting E. B. Intemann
Sound: Nicholas Crano
Video design: Austin Guest
Stage Manager Karin Anderson
Dramaturge/Assistant Stage Manager: Nick Fracaro
Running Time: 80 minutes without an intermission
International Culture Lab at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park) 212-279-4200
From 10/01/08; opening 10/05/08; closing 10/19/08.
Tuesday - Friday at 8:15 PM, Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM and Sunday at 3:15 PM.
Tickets are $35($24.50 for 59E59 Members)
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer October 4th matinee
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