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Dammerung

nytheatre.com review by Joshua Chase Gold
January 13, 2009

The ads for New World Theatre's production of Dammerung ask the questions, "In a time beyond time...who will be a savior? What happens in the final moments between daylight and darkness?" What fantastic questions to ask! In this new reincarnation of the Yiddish classic, the original is translated by Mark Altman and Ellen Perecman and adapted by Perecman and Clay McLeod Chapman. Unfortunately, I was never able to discover any of these answers in Marc Geller's production.

In what could be interpreted as a post-Apocalyptic world where the characters exclaim "God's voice has been drowned out," one family takes it upon their shoulders to restore goodness to the rest of the world. Here we are introduced to the glue of the family, the Grandfather, played calmly by Andrew Dawson. We also meet Grandfather's two sons Nodov (the righteous one) and Heem'n (the black sheep of the family), played by Augustus Truhn and (at the performance reviewed) director Marc Geller, respectively. Cally Robertson, who plays Tomer, one of Nodov's daughters, is able to suggest her desire to change the grief-stricken world when she whispers, "Who planted all this cruelty in mankind?" But I never got that answer in this character-driven, plot-light production.

I had never seen Dammerung, or read it for that matter, but the truth is that what we have here is a powerful story that the world could certainly do with. However, this production is an unfortunate example of what happens when a director's concept obscures the power of a story.

The opening of the show promises more. When the cast enters at the top of the show—dressed in tattered clothes resembling a mix of sheepskin and dirty cloth—they are all vigorously humming and playing various drums and woodwind instruments. As the play progresses, the humming and playing continue to underscore nearly every spoken word. A good idea in theory, it unfortunately is way too distracting and the instruments selected make for more of a Pocahantas-meets-Braveheart sound, as opposed to something that might have more of an Eastern European feeling to it. The nature of the show, and where it comes from, makes the idea of integrating music a good one, but the choice of the particular instruments simply does not work given the context. Geller creates a false sense of building the action as moments get more intense by using the musical instruments. Geller and the cast rely on their instruments to build the moments for them, and when they are not used there is no tension or conflict.

The actors almost never move, and they don't talk to each other. Instead, they make the choice to turn away from their partner on the stage and talk to the wall. For a piece all about humanity and connection between brethren, this seems like an unfortunate choice. There was a beautiful breath of fresh air towards the end when Nodov discovers his daughter has been killed on her mission to save the world. With his booming voice and held-back tears I was grateful to experience such a genuine connection. In this moment the direction took a back seat and the actor was allowed to simply be. I think some more of those kind of interactions would have bettered the production.

Considering the temperament of our country at the moment, we have seen a resurgence of classical theatre with varying messages being made accessible to a modern audience. The messages in these plays, and especially in Dammerung, contain a powerful reminder of the mistakes of the human race. This play has some real potential, and there are a few moments of genuine connection, but it was overwhelmed by direction that made it hard to appreciate the work.