Thursday, December 28, 2017

theatre review: Watch on the Rhine by Lillian Hellman

This Berkeley Rep production got good reviews, but though I knew a little about the author, I knew nothing about the play but the premise, and avoided reading further before I saw it. It was a highly up-to-date current-events play when written in the middle of sizzling world events in 1940, and that fact attracted me, so up I went to see it. It runs through Jan. 14, and I'd recommend it to anyone similarly interested.

It's the early stages of WW2, before the US enters the war. (Though it could just as easily been slightly pre-war.) Two men, one a Rumanian ex-diplomat who spies for the Nazis, the other a German anti-Nazi resistance secret agent, happen to meet when simultaneously houseguests to a wealthy American family. How they react to each other when they deduce each other's secrets (without difficulty), and how the Americans respond to being caught in the middle, makes the play.

When it was filmed in 1943, Bette Davis played the German's wife (daughter to the American family, which explains what they're doing there), but - as Davis tried in vain to point out to the publicity people - hers was a secondary role. The lead woman is her mother, the lady of the house, played on stage here by the crisp Caitlin O'Connell. The German is played by Elijah Alexander (Orsino in the last Ashland 12th Night - OSF alumni often wash up at the Rep) and the Rumanian by Jonathan Walker, both with thick enough accents that, combined with the Roda Theatre's less than ideal acoustics, make me advise the assisted hearing devices for anyone who might even remotely think such a thing would be useful.

I'd found a couple old BART tickets in my "various stuff" drawer, and used those to get there, but curse BART machines for not properly printing the current value on the ticket, because mine was worth a lot less than it said and socked me with a large unexpected AddFare fee on exiting. OK, but that meant I had no idea how much my other ticket was worth either, which combined with having little cash on me made me reluctant to give any of it to panhandlers - of which downtown Berkeley now has as many as the City does; f anyone who says times aren't hard - which made me feel uncharitable.

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