A Bright Room Called Day | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Bright Room Called Day 

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A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company. A small-scale Brechtian epic that's both a chronicle of defeat and a call to arms, Tony Kushner's first play depicts the decline and fall of five leftist artists during the Weimar Republic whose compromises between 1932 and 1933 shed light on Hitler's rise. Kushner contrasts their divided-and-conquered resistance with the equally unfocused rage of an American leftist a half century later (a subplot Mary-Arrchie updates to the reign of George II).

Over nearly three hours, Kushner delivers a historically plausible, if at times dramatically inert, depiction of communists who refuse to unite with liberals to thwart the Nazi plebiscite and artists who place success or security above integrity. The protagonist, Agnes Eggling, is afraid to abandon her Berlin apartment and ends up lost in her own dark night of the soul anyway. Kushner even introduces the devil, who howls a sermon on the fluidity of evil.

In Angels in America Kushner created characters who exist in their own right, but here his characters seem more authorial projections than innocents swallowed by history and their own failures of nerve. Richard Cotovsky's staging is sturdy but sometimes as ponderous as the writing, lacking urgency. The preponderance of smoke to fire is most notable in Emily Albright's Agnes, who seems more irritated than anguished by the loss of her friends. And though the "alienating" slide projections are effective, Joseph Fosco's deliberately hideous sound design is a migraine in the making.

--Lawrence Bommer

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