Before I elucidate how this play confused me, I want to share my admiration for actor Justin Mark whose young German soldier Otto couldn’t be more convincing. The boy’s awkwardness with a girl, his halting speech, habitual military stiffness, and obtuse reasons for following charismatic Hitler are viscerally sympathetic. There isn’t a minute focus veers away from the compelling situation. When inextricably entwined fear and training kick in, one recoils.
As French girl Elodie, Francesca Carpanini comes in a close second manifesting the more complex character; youth’s desperation for experience in an occupied town (Chartres 1944) and survival. The actress is low key in her flirtation, need, and lack of judgment, consistency making decisions plausible. Reactions to consequences show endurance in the extreme.
The rest of the cast is comprised of Angelina Fiordellisi and Austin Pendleton, actors who sing with unprofessional voices as well as speak. If one had a clue what they were supposed to represent an opinion might be more valid. Both are appealing in a compartmentalized way.
Ricky Reynoso’s costumes are spot on. Stacey Derosier’s lighting works in tandem with mood. Frank J. Oliva has incomprehensibly chosen to depict a dirty abandoned domicile (characters say as much) with wall to wall rose colored carpeting.
On the other side of a stage length window, an older couple charmingly sing “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” Lyrics are projected across the proscenium as if a sing-along. (Later, we’re in fact asked to sing along further removing us from the drama.) Between vocals and downstage action, they respectively list things they’d do differently in life given a do-over. Jaunty song choices juxtapose serious action. At first, one assumes they’re Otto and Elodie in old age making the musical part of the program acceptable, then perhaps deceased townspeople or even angels. This is never clarified.
The piece: Elodie sneaks out of her parent’s home to meet Otto bearing purloined food and a single egg she intends to hatch. Placing her treasure in a discarded shoe surrounded by pillow feathers is inspired as is the later result. The girl is loose and natural, the boy on general alert and with the relative stranger, a deer in headlights. She clearly intends to have sex. He either has no idea or can’t imagine such a thing under the circumstances. When she teases him with outside sounds, he’s reflexively ready for violence. Note that directly after the incident, background actors sing “Darling Scatterbrain.”
As the young people learn about one another (his frightening choices are related with matter of factness) and Elodie tries to keep Otto from joining his company, the soldier’s actions on duty are horrifically detailed. With her eye on “the prize”, the girl barely blanches. She knows something about the state of the war he does not. There are moments of laughter and playfulness in the face of tragedy. All this plays credibly.
After Elodie suffers an epileptic fit and the couple has sex, they suddenly hold microphones like the actors who come out from behind the window clouding narrative. A lovely misplaced parenthesis depicting Elodie and Otto’s first meeting and vivid, wrenching consequences of their being together are couched between undecipherable participation of the elders whose spoken resolutions now become decidedly contemporary. What?!
There’s some good work here, but overall playwright Rita Kalnejais shoots herself in the foot. Nor do I have any idea what the title implies.
Director Jack Serio has a deft hand with actors and an excellent sense of timing. Movement on the small stage works beautifully.
Photos by Emilio Madrid
Opening: Background- Austin Pendleton and Angelina Fiordellisi Foreground Francesca Carpanini and Justin Mark
Theatre Lab presents
This Beautiful Future by Rita Kalnejais
Directed by Jack Serio
Through January 30, 2022
357 West 36rth Street 3rd floor
Impressive COVID precautions