nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
February 5, 2011
Kiran Rikhye’s gorgeous play Kinderspiel had me completely, utterly hooked. Stolen Chair pulls out a dangerously delightful production with this one that I’m so glad I didn’t miss. Furthermore, like the characters, I wanted to play at Kinderspiel too.
The play takes place in Weimar Berlin where a successful burlesque dancer, Louisa, falls from the height of popularity to destitution, then prostitution, and then she mentally snaps. The night she snaps, she begins accidentally playing with her shoe and then something clicks. She rediscovers that playing is fun.
Max is a young man with rich parents who has tried every political scene, social group, entertainment, perversion, and activity in all of Berlin and still has not found anything to amuse him. One day Max stumbles into the basement of a club and finds Louisa playing with some forgotten junk. She is discovering these objects in the room, playing pretend with them like a child, and speaking funny in what another character in the play later coins “linguistic cubism.” Max quickly becomes intrigued and joins her. In an epiphany, he decides everyone he’s known before Louisa has been “slusherly stupidful” and “boresome.” They begin meeting every night to create scenarios of pretend with random objects as props.
Heinrich is the next to discover them. He begins charging admission to voyeurs and calls it the “Kinderspiel Cabaret,” and it quickly becomes the hottest underground club in town.
The production is beautiful, edgy, funny, weird—there are so many positive things I could say about it. I love the inventive use of language and the deftness with which the actors speak it. I love the meta-theatrical aspect of watching these adults privately play and essentially filling the role of their seedy audience as written by the playwright. I love that in this pretend world for adults, both innocent and disturbing material are fair game. I think all of the performers are perfect. Liza Wade Green is a dark and mesmerizing diva as Louisa. David Skeist as Max allows us to fall into and out of the Kinderspiel Cabaret right along with him. He is grounded and believable, living fully in every strange moment. The two of them have fascinating chemistry together. I also particularly hung on David Berent’s every phrase as Heinrich, the evening’s storyteller and cabaret emcee. He blends just the right amount of paternal adoration, cynicism, and charm. The world of the play is way out there. The actors (who also include Liz Eckert and Laura Heidinger) and director Jon Stancato are all to be commended for the simplicity and clarity they bring to all their crazy playing.
What I love most of all, and why I go to the theatre, is that it reminded me that we all need our playtime. We need our stories and our storytellers. We need to exercise our imaginations just to survive. Each character in Kinderspiel has a good reason why he or she needs to join the story, to play pretend. The character Sonja is a journalist who goes to the Kinderspiel Cabaret to write about it and ends up playing too, and I’m there in the audience to write about the show thinking, “Yes, yes. Me too!” No one in Kinderspiel can resist getting in on the playtime, and neither will you. That is meaningful: You will have a delightly exciterous magictime.