Saturday, October 21, 2006

Leni

Insight Out Theatre Collective
October 20, 2006; closes November 11, 2006

Proficient performances share stage with too-few extraordinary film clips. I left wanting steeper (re-organized?) dramatic arc to biograph subject so remarkable, relevant. Instead of self-eulogy, perhaps shifting play’s point-of-view would add tension, raise stakes, make us want to know what happens, why. What is the conflict, journey to be taken?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

A wonderful reminder of how much can be created onstage with the bare minimum. Exciting show. Another example in our midst of compelling new work.

Walking in, the space concerned me. It's in a movie theatre with a flat floor and the stage seemed low in front of high-backed seats. However, it worked just fine.

The material is magnetic. Which of us wouldn't want to have a conversation with Hitler, or Riefenstahl? The story is a mystery, and yet we all know the ending. The playwright picks up a huge chunk of material that we know quite a bit about. All she has to do is say the name Leni and she has our attention.

We know all about it, and yet how did it happen, and what did Riefenstahl think she was doing at the time? How did these beautiful films come out of the Nazi orbit?

Hindsight is 20-20. We shy away from TRIUMPH OF THE WILL because of what happened later. But let's face it - this film is like a drug and Riefenstahl did some beautiful stuff. It is impossible to watch this film and not get pulled in. Calvin Klein and Nike have certainly learned from it.

There is a danger in showing clips from Riefenstahl's films as a backdrop. These aesthetic masterpieces of fascist beauty threaten to upstage the play itself.

That did not happen - but it came close in act two. The shots of diving are so arresting that I did not hear a word anyone said as long as the film was running. A bettter approach might be to separate the clips from actors' dialogue about them - first show the clips, then stop and begin the dialogue.

It's very hard to compete with Riefenstahl. While we're looking at the films, the actors could say almost anything and it's not going to be heard. Only when the camera is off can we really focus on the play's dialogue.

JoAnn Johnson and Cecily Overman do a wonderful job here and are fascinating to watch. They both look like they could be Leni. Overman could walk off the screen of a 1930's B&W film.

In act 1 the playwright makes some surprising comparisons to present day. I really liked where this was going, but it was not pursued or developed in act 2. The idea of "did the Germans know" is mesmerizing - not because of them, but because of the echo for our own time. In some future day, will people debate "did the Americans know"? Gotcha!

The playwright is on the trail of some great stuff here. The story could be tweaked and made more dramatic, but it was still a significant effort. Both the genre (mixing real footage from actual historical events with interviews of figures) and the story (Leni, Hitler and the fascistic ideals of the body) have a lot of potential. This show could go far.

tg said...

Very well done! I disagree with "Anonymous" above -- the films mesh very well with the spoken words. Ms. Johnson and Ms. Overman played their parts very well indeed. Great use of light and shadows.

Rita said...

Yes - interesting use of shadows! I wonder if that was intentional from the beginning, or if that developed in rehearsal, or just happy accident?