Austria, 1945. True story. At her castle in Rechnitz, Countess Margit von Battyany and her lover Hans Joachim Oldenberg host a party for SS officers, where the guests open fire on 180 Jewish prisoners. When the war ends, almost nobody is willing to talk about it. Two that do speak are found dead shortly thereafter. The next year, Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek was born about 90 minutes away from the incident. Fifty-two years later, she wrote a play about it. And now, a decade after that, Hungarian director Ildiko Nemeth is sharing this piece of history with New York, through her New Stage Theatre Company.
It’s a complex production that feels more like a Nazi poetry slam than a theatrical drama, with seven ghoulish characters (kudos to Brandon Olson for Goth-inspired costumes that are black even by New York standards!) delivering monologue after monologue filled with rhymes, double entendre and other forms of wordplay. Between—and sometimes during—these recitals, the cast perambulates mechanically in a manner that calls to mind a game of Rush Hour, with spooky, chime-filled interludes by Muriel Louveau and eerie abstractions of “strange fruit” projections by Chris Sharp and Tess Holbrook. When the actors (including Theodore Bouloukos, Brandon Olson and Jeanne Lauren Smith) come together, they complement their comments with pantomime bordering on sign language. As the show progresses, Justin Ivan Brown and Renee Erikson interact more sensuously, and Brian Linden and Isobel Roth occasionally dabble in each others’ company in a way that makes you wonder what, exactly, they’re not telling you. It’s a haunting performance all-around, with needles-in-the-haystack that question the extent to which these aristocrats were themselves victims of circumstance—without denying or downplaying the monstrosity of their actions.
If you’re curious to see how an event so morose can be recounted in verse by a playwright renown for her literary prowess, then march on up to the Upper West Side before this limited engagement closes on May 5th. Then, be sure to come back here and let us know what these messengers conveyed to you. Whether you appreciate Jelinek’s abstraction or prefer your historical reenactments with a more traditional delivery, your reviews can help others decide whether they should follow in your footsteps, and your ratings help us help you find future productions you’re sure to love!