Michael Urie, Nikki M. James Photo by Joan Marcus
“We live in Berlin, it’s 1932, I feel relatively safe.” Agnes
The revival of Pulitzer Prize-winning Tony Kushner’s 1985 play A Bright Room Called Day, puts Kushner front and center as Xillah (Jonathan Hadary), comments on his own play. The comments say it all. “It’s his first play. It’s never worked,” “I don’t know how to get this right”. The play breaks the fourth wall as Xillah and Zillah (Crystal Lucas-Perry, who appeared in the original ), a woman from the Reagan-era, comments about Xillah’s present day, the fact he wrote this play when he was 26 and what is happening in 1932-33 Germany. A Bright Room Called Day is a mess.
This is no Angels in America! Part of the play describes the relationships between a group of progressive, artistic Berliners caught up in the events of the fall Weimar Republic, as the Nazis rise to power. Insider the apartment of Agnes (Nikki M. James), a working Agnes (Nikki M. James) and her Hungarian lover (Michael Esper), their friends the openly gay Gregor (Michael Urie), the opium-addicted actress Paulinka (Grace Gummer) and the revolution-minded Annabella (Linda Emond) deal in different ways as their well-ordered world falls apart. Instead of fighting the characters become fearful, despondent and flee.
When the Communist party (Nadine Malouf, Max Woertendyke), that a few of the characters have joined hear about how Gregor, who had a gun spotted Adolph Hitler sitting a few rows in front of him at a movie theater, didn’t shoot the would-be dictator for fear of his own life. They are disgusted and blame society for not taking a stand.
To complicate matters a mysterious old woman or is she a ghost (Estelle Parsons), keeps entering Agnes’s apartment in search of food, as the Devil (Mark Margolis), is thrilled about how the world is his.
Oskar Eustis, who originally staged the play’s first production, doesn’t help uncomplicated this piece but is big on pyrotechnics, which add some heat to this rather cold telling.
As always Michael Urie gives a charismatic performance, as does Estelle Parsons. This cast is well honed in their craft and you find yourself wanting to see this ensemble in a better play.
Kushner’s plot points are a cyclone of thought, that leave the audience not caring. It is understandable why the playwright feels compelled, if not obsessed to keep re-writing this play, especially in this political climate, but enough already.
This three-hour play is so talkie with too many self-explanatory monologues that when Xillah states at the end of Act Two: “Let them go, they need to pee,” you wish that leaving was an option. For a lot of the audience it was.
A Bright Room Called Day: The Public Theater, 425 Layfette St. until Dec.