MOTHER NIGHT, adapted and directed by Brian Katz

David Sikula and Chris Morrell

Everything about Brian Katz’s adaptation and direction of satirist/surrealist writer Kurt Vonnegut’s “Mother Night” works beautifully.   Vonnegut has said of “‘Mother Night” that it is the only story of his whose moral he knows:

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Mother Night is one of the best plays I have seen so far this year.    Though the time span jumps back and forth from 1939 to beyond the end of WWII, you are never lost. Chris Morrell plays Harold W. Campbell Jr.,whom the play is all about.  You don’t doubt for one minute that he is Campbell, even with time changes.  He is a German playwright and radio broadcaster; Campbell also narrates, breaking the fourth wall, which in no way compromises the trajectory of the play, but allows us to locate our bearings.   Morrell, on stage in every scene, carries the play and does a masterful job throughout.

Campbell was an American transplant to Germany, from age 11, in 1923.  After WWI, now a playwright, he marries a German girl, Helga Noth (Megan Briggs, who epitomizes a fraulein of that era) The Nationalist Socialist party is on the rise from the ashes of its previous ruling entity.  The Nazis become aware of Campbell’s writing skills so recruits him as propagandist and radio personality.   Before he truly realizes what’s happening, he finds himself working for both the Nazis and the American government.  They, his father-in-law, and even he himself, never really know what or who he really is.  Even those in the Nazi party appear to be playing games; thinking they know their parts, they obfuscate, rationalize, or pretend.  David Sikula as George Kraft:  is he an artist or Soviet Intelligence Agent?  Dr. Epstien (Adam Neiman), is he really a doctor?;  the wife- could she really be Helga’s younger sister, Resi?  What happened to Helga? There’s the mysterious woman Campbell calls his “Blue Angel” played by A. J. Davenport, who doubles as Francis Wirtanen, an agent of the U.S. War Dept.  Only white supremacist Lionel Jones D.D.S., D.D (believably played by Catz Forsman) appears to know and act like he knows exactly who he is: a rabid racist, hater of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, immigrants, and women.  He doesn’t hesitate to let everyone within shouting distance know it.  Cast members, except for Morell and Briggs, play distinct multiple roles. 

Whether you have read the book, or now seeing Katz’s adaptation you can’t ignore the parallels between them and the current administration. The so-called”leader of the free world” is acting as or pretending, to be the US president.  He’d better be careful.

Megan Briggs as Helga and Chris Morrell as Howard W. Campbell Jr.

 

I commend the talented folks behind the scenes for making the play come alive: Scenic Designer, Dan Bilodeau, whose one set works wonderfully with various time and place changes; Properties Designer, Stephanie Dittbern for putting us there; Lighting & Projections Designer, Maxx Kurzunski, who clarified time and place with subtle lighting, and dramatic emphasis when needed;  and Costume Designer Brook Jennings, whose era dress was spot on.

Mother Night runs through June 24.  Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St. SF

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