To be topical, yet subtle. Intensely focused on an issue yet without preaching. On top of that, to achieve the surface below which boils and dances currents of dangerous passions--doubt, loneliness, love, hate, guilt, lust, horror, fear.
That may sound pretentious beyond words but in my eyes it describes a difficult, powerful theatrical achievement. That is how I describe Winter Solstice by Roland Shimmelpfennig, one of Germany's most popular living playwrights. Of course, some find the idea of listening to anyone other than a true-blue American pointless. Which ends up one of the points this play addresses.
Simply put, Albert seems a nervous wreck. It doesn't help his wife Bettina (Natasha St.Clair-Johnson) is distracted by efforts to direct her film, leaving him to deal with her mother and all the while despising him for the very qualities she had loved him for once--the softness, the gentle way he is determined to remain civilized.
I almost cannot emphasize enough how much the play depends on this cast of actors to make it work--and how completely under the direction of Frederique Michel they achieve it!
But the clues mount. Rudolph plays the piano, disparaging non-German composers, mocking Poles and insisting there are no great Jewish composers. He extols what he calls ancient traditions we've lots touch with, eventually suggesting they all celebrate the Winter Solstice instead of Christmas. Never mind the Winter Solstice was last week--reality is what we can make it! And he talks about keeping cultures distinct. Apart. Separate. Don't let strangers and foreigners in. Recognize how nature has superior and inferior types. We should follow nature that way. And so on.
The problem is--Albert did the right thing. He let a stranger in from the cold. More, he is the one who sees the danger but barely counters a thing the man says. He just gets more upset, takes more of his medication, begins to notice how his friend the artist Konrad (Rob Nolan) feels seduced by Rudolph's words. Via a semi-drunken haze he sees a way to unmask this stranger and maybe banish him. Maybe. But he doesn't do it.
Should he? The more one dwells on it the more valid seem Albert's fears. Given the intense detail with which these events unfold, his conundrum seems ever more real. Ever more what we ourselves must face.
Which makes for a fascinating, swirling human dance of human frailty, good intentions, mistakes and of course lots of temptation. We become part of the events because we seem both there and not, looking in and in some way partaking. Albert's paradox becomes our own.
Winter Solstice plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm until November 25, 2018 at the City Garage Theatre, Bergamont Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Building T1, Santa Monica CA 90404.