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Friday, May 15, 2009

Review- Way To Heaven (Equil!cuá Producciones)

The Fab Marquee review by David Stallings.

It is always exciting to see theatre written by foreign playwrights working outside of the US. Oftentimes, there is more freedom in their work, and the structure is less tied to traditional storytelling. Partly this is due to the fact that theatre is seen as a true art outside of the US, whereas here, we are forced to think in terms of business and entertainment. Of course both sides of the sword have a sharp edge. Sometimes experimentation does not produce effective results. Surely the pleasure was mine last night in viewing Juan Mayorga’s Way to Heaven (Himmelweg). Mayorga is no newcomer to playwriting. One of Spain’s most well known contemporary playwrights; he is the recipient of Spain’s National Theater Award, as well as the Max Award for Best Playwright. Combined with Matthew Earnest’s innovative direction, Way to Heaven makes for an inspired if at times uneven evening.

Mark Farr (Gershom Gottfried) and Francisco Reyes Commandant)
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Way to Heaven is a play that experiments with form and storytelling techniques with a plot that definitely lends itself to such exploration. The play is inspired by the Theresienstadt concentration camp located in what is now the Czech Republic during WWII. This concentration camp is responsible for the execution of thousands of Jews, while maintaining the front that it was a planned Jewish Community. The Nazis went out of their way to propagandize the camp as a cultural Mecca, complete with orchestral recitals and stage performances. This play takes it a step further and imagines that everything said in the camp is scripted, and that the Jews are forced into the roles of actors and executed if they do not comply or are not prolific enough.

The play is told in five parts, with five different focal points. The first is the Red Cross Representative (Shawn Parr) who is hoodwinked by the performance and later haunted by it. Then we witness the Jewish “performers” enacting their scenes. The third section is a monologue equivalent to a song and dance routine enacted by the camp’s Nazi Commandant (Francisco Reyes). The fourth focuses on Gershom Gottfried (Mark Farr), the Jewish Mayor who is coerced into forcing his community to perform. The final act is that of the Jewish community as themselves, rehearsing the play that could save their lives.

Mark Farr (Gershom Gottfried) and Samantha Rahn (Girl)
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Director Matthew Earnest takes on this five part tale with gusto. He directs the play to clearly take on five distinct and different performance styles to tell each section. First he has the Red Cross Representative (Parr) perform with direct address to the audience in Shakespearean Soliloquy. Parr executes this highly difficult speech with sincerity and heart. Then, when the Jewish performers take on their scenes, surrealism is enlisted, with sharp lines of blocking and a beautiful moment where the Jews hide behind a door, listening for their cues. The most frightening moments of the play are when certain actors fumble and are quickly replaced by another actor in the same costume. The audience knows all too well what happened to the failed performer. The third section of the Commandant (Reyes) is done in Vaudeville style. He interacts with the audience and lifts his hands almost as if to say, “Ta-da”, as he goes through his rehearsed speech. The fourth section dramatically moves us into realism. For the first time we are presented with the Commandant’s office, complete with chair, books, desk, and a glass filled with water. This last touch was the perfect accent for realism. The final act is one of post modernism, where the performers and director comment on their material in a Brechtian style.

The play and its execution at times border on brilliant. Through the first three sections, the audience is thrown forward in their seats, riveted by the subject matter and changing styles and forms. Unfortunately the fourth and longest section of “realism” is overburdened and episodic. Francisco Reyes captivated us moments earlier in his over the top monologue, but continues the heightened acting through the realistic sections. Also the writing still seems to focus on the Commandant when the subject is begging to be that of Gershom (Farr), who must make the climactic decision of which performers to cut. Farr plays his moments beautifully, but not enough attention is given to his journey for the climax to be fully effective. There are many scenes that cut up this section and there is not enough build to keep an audience interested. The fifth section bounces back, but as the fourth section seems as long as the others combined, the audience is left with a sadly mixed experience.

The play is performed on a set of dead leaves, adding to the beautiful metaphors Mayorga gives us in the text. Derek Wright’s clean lighting design and Patrick Johnson’s costumes add to the professionalism of the piece. A far cry from the pure realism with which this subject matter is usually handled, Mayorga uses energy, imagery, and symbolism to produce innovative theatre. This play—even with its flaws—is a must see.

Equil!cuá Producciones presents
Juan Mayorga's
Way To Heaven

May 7-24, 2009

Teatro Círculo

Tickets are $18 General Admission / $16 Students and Seniors and are now available online at or by calling (212) 868-4444. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the Theatre’s Box Office, ½ hour prior to the performance. For more information visit .

Teatro Círculo | 64 East 4th Street | Manhattan.

1 comment:

Bitchy Actress said...

I heard about this! Sounds like an interesting work...thank you for a great review!