Watch on the Rhine | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Watch on the Rhine 

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Watch on the Rhine, Eclipse Theatre Company, at the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ. At the time of its writing in 1941, Lillian Hellman's anti-Nazi play must have seemed a call to arms. The United States didn't pledge its full support to the Allied Powers until the year Watch on the Rhine premiered--and didn't enter into the European theater until the following year. Hellman's pointed critique of America's noncommittal stance probably didn't hasten Roosevelt's decision to deploy troops to Germany, but it must have had a galvanizing effect on theatergoers: the play was an unqualified success at a time when political convictions were usually whispered.

Nearly six decades after it premiered this overtly political work--about a German activist's struggles to choose between the twin obligations of family and debts of honor--has lost some of its notoriety but none of its spark. And while history has favored The Little Foxes and The Children's Hour as the high points of Hellman's career, this remains a wholly unsettling play. Steven Fedoruk's slow, methodical staging highlights Hellman's crisp dialogue, but at times it also adds an air of romance to an otherwise unsentimental work. Still, this production merits attention if only for the fine balance it strikes between optimism and morbid melancholy--a balance that eluded Hellman in her personal life. --Nick Green

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