Earnest theater risks striving for such dramatic heights, the action detaching so much from reality, that the resulting catharsis is contrived and unfulfilling. Enter A Bright Room Called Day. Both inspired textually by and executed technically in the style of Bertolt Brecht‘s epic theater, CU Players’ production of Tony Kushner’s Bright Room maintains throughout an awareness of the conceit of theater, which heightens the metaphorical impact of the action by underlining the sincerity of the performance with a knowing wink.
The plot unfolds in roughly two nested timelines, entirely set in the front room of an apartment in Berlin. The framing narrative is established in 1990 by a forceful young woman from Long Island, Zillah (Mollie Krent, BC’15). Krent’s passion and understanding of metaphor invite the audience to open the book of the past, though she comes across a bit too detached from her German-speaking, hilariously hunkish boytoy Roland (Ankeet Ball, CC’16).
The inner story takes place in the same city, the same room, circa 1932. The resident, an insecure German actress with an idealizing bent named Agnes Eggling (Laura Fisher, CC’14), hosts communists and malcontents Paulinka Erdnuss (Charlie Gillette, BC’13), Vealtninc Husz (Gerard Ramm, CC’13), Annabella Gotchling (Rebecca Clark, CC’13) and Baz (Will Beech, CC’16). This ensemble’s engaging amiability and genuine political fanaticism is offset by their unpredictable reactions to the more mysterious aspects of the show. Beech and Gilette stand out in their commitment to the emotional reality of the characters, Clark for her impeccable understanding of the text, while Ramm and Fisher’s dispassionate but sincere love motivates the turmoil of the second act.
Late at night, Agnes is visited by bad dreams, taking the corporeal form of Die Alte (Tessa Slovis, BC’13). Though Slovis commits to her thoroughly ghoulish character with startling power, Fisher reacts with an eerie calm, as if she is asleep and thinks the whole encounter actually a dream. Her comfort with the grotesque Slovis plays well in these scenes of discomfort and invasion, since Agnes is the most hospitable character in the show.
While it is never made clear whether these visitations are actually dream or reality, a very real appearance is made by what appears to be the devil himself: Gottfried Swetts (David Silberthau, CC’15). Preceded by startling bangs and entering with a believable, bordering-on-overdone limp, Silberthau’s flexible range of acting reaches a mania which brilliantly contrasts with the generally calm events of the first act.
Providing an unexpected comic relief from the drama of the supernatural appearances, Silberthau as Emil Traum makes another appearance alongside Jessie Cohen (BC’13) as Rosa Malek. The two are members of the German Communist party, and demonstrate the absurd political tension in this organization. Silberthau further exhibits his range of emotion by anchoring his quarrels with Malek in the need to communicate with Agnes, while Cohen provides the bite of this comedic duo through a close understanding of the humor in the text.
If there is one word to describe epic theater, it is “aware.” In this production, a camera operator is always present on stage with a live feed projected onto the back wall of the space, while a second projector conveys relevant plot information like dates and historical events, as well as archival clips of Reagan and Hitler, encouraging a LitHum-esque analysis of the text. Grounding the extremely simple set is an ingeniously designed tilting table, with glasses and objects constantly threatening to topple, symbolizing the political unrest of the relevant time periods and the shifting alliances of the characters.
Director Corinna Munn and her close assistant Gabby Beans outwardly focused their creative efforts on the strictly political elements of Kushner’s play. However, the design elements elicit profound reflections on memory, history, and meta-criticism. The blatant intentionality of the show encourages the audience to approach Bright Room as a text to be closely analyzed, instead of simply a spectacle to be immersed in. This opportunity to enjoy not just a show, but to analyze the very way you think about an art form makes Bright Room a worthwhile evening of theater.