Friday August 18th 2017

“East of Berlin” & “The Russian Play”

Signal Ensemble Theatre’s mission is to inspire their audiences with a variety of compelling theater and thus their current production, two one act plays by Hannah Moscovitch, “East of Berlin” and “The Russian Play” fit perfectly. These are two one act plays, the first, “East of Berlin” roughly 90 minutes is an interesting look at a young man, Rudi ( a strong performance by Billy Fenderson who needs to work on projection) who is coming home to Paraguay to confront his father. He has been gone for seven years where he has  explored his emotions and his feelings about what his father’s past was and how it effects who he is. In a great series of flashbacks, we meet his best friend Hermann ( Tom McGrath) who teaches him about the past as well as how to let his inner feelings out and when he arrives in Germany, to seek some truths about his family, he meets Sarah ( the lovely Melanie Keller) who is also searching for truths about her family history. A strong relationship develops between these two young people from different worlds and while it appears that love develops, under the skillful hand of director Ronan Marra, we, the audience are shocked to see what the ending brings.We of course learn of Rudi’s love/hate relationship with his father who never told him why they left Germany for Paraguay and that of course becomes very obvious as Rudi begins his explorations of his past.

While I loved the story and felt the direction was solid as were the performances, I was a little upset about the use of cigarettes ( they use the new electronic smokes). It appears that none of these people knew how to hold a cigarette an dthe fact that they spent time putting the fake one back in the case took away from the real action that we should have been watching, the unforlding of a mysterious love story. There is no real set for either of these plays, just black walls and the lighting was very dark  for both) One of the drawbacks to Signal’s beautiful “black box theater” is that the “L” runs just yards away and the noise can make it hard to hear- the actors tended to speak in conversational tones ( except Ms Keller) and even in this intimate space, there were times content was lost. Ms. Moscovitch’s words need to be heard, so either a few stage mikes are needed or perhaps body mikes ( toned down) would suffice.

In the second story ( 30 minutes in length),”The Russian Play” we meet Sonya ( an even stronger performance by Ms Keller) a worker in a flower shop who during the Stalinist Russia Days, who falls in love with a local grave digger ( McGrath) and  becomes with child. The pregnancy is ended and the baby buried and with that taking place her life takes on a new direction. She becomes the mistress to Koysta ( Fenderson) who keeps her in a small hotel room and when she refuses his demands, she is sent off to the work farms where she once again meets her true love Piott, who still digs graves, but now of those who are of no value. This story also is told in a flashback starting with a crust of bread and where can one hide this forbidden food so as not to lose their life. This piece has some marvelous music ( composed by Claire Jenkins) played by violinist Allison Cook. The black box set is still the same for this one, but the costumes (Elsa Hitner) and the lighting ( Mark J. Hurni) fare better. The Russian Dialect ( coached by Elise Kauzlaric) as performed in particular by Ms Keller is superb. Director Marra makes this satirical piece truly come alive. In both of these plays, love is the topic that is looked at. What will one do to find true love? And what is one willing to do to keep that love? How do we prove to the person that we love, that we indeed do love them? These are some of the questions that are examined in these strong productions now onstage at Signal Ensemble Theatre located at 1802 West Bernice ( just off Ravenswood and a few blocks south of Irving Park Rd) that will continue through November 13th with performances as follows:

Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets are only $20 ( $15 for students and seniors)

Special- on Saturday, November 5th, $5 of every ticket sold will go to “Seasons of Concern” a special cause that is important to all of the industry and to theater audience members as well( www.SeasonofConcern.org)

 On Friday, November 11th, all Veterans only $10

There is lots of FREE street parking and the theater is very close to public transportation.

To order your tickets call 773-698-7389 or visit www.signalensemble.com

 

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