The Unlucky Man in the Yellow Cap
nytheatre.com review by Matt Johnston
August 12, 2006
The good news about J.R. Pick's The Unlucky Man in the Yellow Cap is that if you are looking for a theatre experience that includes a love story, singing, dancing, high drama, high comedy, and a Czechoslovakian ghetto, you'll find it here. The unfortunate news is that the excessive combination of all these elements, set against a wartime backdrop, rooted in realism, makes for a confused and sometimes ironic time in the theatre. I often felt myself pulled away from the experience of the play because of the discord between what the moments on stage seemed to want to be, and how they actually worked. I spent much of the time puzzled at how the production was pieced together because I could find little way into the emotional life of the story.
The play is set in 1944 Terezin, Hitler's "model ghetto" in Czechoslovakia. The story unfolds among a group of youths who form a cabaret with secret ambitions. Lucy, a beautiful singer, joins the cabaret and ends up falling in love with a bookish ghetto police officer. As the play progresses, their love is repeatedly battled by the limitations and oppression of living during a time of war.
There are a few delightful elements in the production. In fact, I have the sense that if this play actually went in the direction of an all-out musical, it might find more success. The occasional musical interludes make for moving and powerful moments on stage—so much so that they seem to exist in a vacuum from the rest of the play, rather than being seamlessly woven in and out of the narrative. Lisa Hugo's beautiful voice fills the space with a majesty all its own, and Erik Singer's portrayal of Norbert Reddish, the ghetto police officer, is honest and humbled. Yet I left the theatre less attached to the play and the story, and more so to those separated moments of musical bliss.
The play is an ambitious project to begin with, adapted by Emmy winner Zuzana Justman, with music by another Emmy winner, Peter Fish, and directed by Marcy Arlin. It is based on Pick and Justman's personal experiences in Terezin, and while we have all seen a number of World War II dramas, this one is certainly original in concept. It is unfortunate, then, that the story could not be told more simply. Instead, what I found was a production that tried to be everywhere except inside its own world and unique story.