Novemer 11, 2005—January 29, 2006
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Production Design by Charles A. Duncombe
Cast: Justin Davanzo, David E. Frank, Sharon Gardner, Bo Roberts, Paul M. Rubenstein
LA Weekly — Pick of the Week
by Steven Leigh Morris
November 17-23, 2005
What a pleasure to see a theater company — once defined by its presentations of somewhat cryptic material staged with the stomping heavy-handedness of some provincial German cabaret — evolve through the decades. This is perhaps the most tender production by City Garage to date, reflections by the late German scribe Heiner Müller subtitled Heiner Müller on Times of War (translation by Marc von Henning).
Four actors playing multiple roles, and sharing the narration, depict scenes from cities, German and Japanese, broken by war. A boy remembers his father taken away in the night, and later visits him in prison, and, decades later, in an old-age home. A gentle wave goodbye through a suspended window frame is about as devastating an image of loss and separation as one is likely to find. Though there is the pounding of feet — a trademark of director Frederique Michel — this time around, Michel seems as much influenced by the gentle formality of Japanese Noh theater.
Charles A. Duncombe’s production design is perfect in its simplicity — a stage floor of maple slabs, a bed to the side, and a screen containing judiciously employed documentary images from the war-torn cities being described. David E. Frank, Bo Roberts and Paul M. Rubenstein effortlessly carry the sometimes arch style, but Sharon Gardner is particularly fine, with her pained, pale face, her throaty voice and unrelenting poise.
Backstage West — CRITIC’S PICK
November 17-23, 2005
by Paul Birchall
Director Frederíque Michel’s powerful staging of this drama by the late German playwright Heiner Müller is of a thematic piece with some of the City Garage company’s most notable past productions of plays by Müller, who is considered by some to be the most important German playwright since Brecht. The plays deal with cruelty and the reduction of humanity to the level of pure bestiality. Yet what makes The Battle even more striking is its comparative accessibility.
That’s not to say this is an evening of easy theatre. It isn’t, and the show crackles with ambiguous images and often perplexing exchanges that are the standard leitmotif of Müller’s and Michel’s artistic styles. However, because so much of the drama consists of Müller’s autobiography, or at least what he presents as such, the piece has a personal quality that makes it unusually engaging. At the same time, this quality makes the acts of onstage cruelty all the more horrifying.
A narrator (Paul Rubenstein), whom we can only assume is intended to represent Müller, opens by recounting a horrifying memory of childhood in Nazi Germany, watching as his father (Bo Roberts) is hauled off as an enemy of the state. From here, the work fragments into a visual representation of the chaos of postwar Germany.
After Hitler’s suicide and the defeat of Germany, a miserable man (David E. Frank) shoots his screaming wife (Sharon Gardner) and daughter (Justin Davanzo) but is unable to kill himself. Later four soldiers, left alone in a wintry wilderness, draw straws to decide who of them will be killed and eaten by the others. Then another defeated man is stalked by a shadowy figure, whom he beats and ultimately kills, simply because the guy is always there.
Müller’s play is less about war than it is about the chaos and malice that follows it. And the work also tries to figure out what it was in the German psyche during the 20th century that gave rise to so much wickedness, despotism, and hatred. Michel’s staging offers sharply focused tension and intensity, which is cut with a droll irony—and the play seethes with an intellectual keenness that is rarely seen in LA. shows. The ensemble work is tight. Particularly notable turns are offered by Gardner, playing a haunted, debased German girl—turned-prostitute, and by Frank as the deadpan, deeply embittered narrator.