Watch on the Rhine is a stunning performance at Berkeley Rep

(l to r) Sarah Agnew (Sara Muller), Caitlin O’Connell (Fanny Farrelly), and Elijah Alexander (Kurt Muller) in Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine at Berkeley Rep.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

WATCH ON THE RHINE: Drama by Lilian Hellman. Directed by Lisa Peterson. Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org. November 30, 2017–January 14, 2018

Watch on the Rhine is a stunning performance at Berkeley Rep Rating: ★★★★★

Watch on the Rhine is an extremely well written 70 year old play that was Lillian Hellman’s anti-fascist response to the atrocities being committed in Europe that were ignored by America and the rest of the world. It is as cogent today as when it was performed in 1941 eight months before America entered WW II. Not only is it a political statement but also a study of family loyalties and the lengths one would go to support and protect those endangered by destructive ideologies.

It is 1940 in Washington, DC at the home wealthy widowed Fanny Farrelly (Caitlin O’Connell) and her lawyer son David (Hugh Kennedy). She is expecting the return of daughter Sara (Sarah Agnew) who is married to Kurt Muller. Kurt and Sara have three children: The eldest Joshua (Silas Sellnow), Babette (Emma Curtin) and youngster Bodo (Jonah Horowitz).  Also staying in the house are impoverished Nazi sympathizer Count Teck De Brancovis (Jonathan Walker) and his young wife Marthe (Kate Guentzel) who have overstayed their welcome.

Sarah has been away 20 years and Kurt is an anti-fascist activist who has been tortured by the gestapo but escaped to Switzerland and is wanted in Germany. He and his family have meagerly managed to survive by frequently moving and Kurt has maintained his staunch pledge to champion a free society.

The play is presented in its original three act format with a full intermission between acts I and II with a 5 minute “stretch your legs” before act III begins. Act one sets the premise with necessary character development to define the relationship between each. Act II that takes place a few weeks later amplifies their interactions leading to a crisis. That crisis is the action by Trek who blackmails Kurt and the family with the threat to turn Kurt over to the German embassy. Act three can be considered a denouement is the most powerful of the evening forcing the family to make horrendous decisions knowing that their world will never be the same.

Elijah Alexander’s taut acting seems so real it makes you feel his motivations. His verbal description of the Nazi planes bombing unarmed civilians during the Spanish civil war brings back images of Picasso’s painting “Guenica.”  His love for family and freedom are fervently displayed and is reciprocated by Sarah Agnew’s intimate responses. Fanny Farrelly’s shift from a bit scatterbrained matron to the strong but hesitant head of the household is a perfectly believable transition. However one never feels the unmitigated danger of Johnathon Walker’s performance as De Brancovis. The children perform admirably with special accolades to Silas Sellnow as Joshua.   Hugh Kennedy’s character David is the least distinct and his part in the final scenes are underwritten.  Kate Guentzel creates a strong Marte that is needed to define her relationship with her husband.

Lisa Peterson displays her superb directorial ability on the magnificent set by Neil Patel that fills the entire stage and by itself is well worth a visit.

The power in this play is difficult to define but be assured your attention will be riveted from start to finish and force you to consider present day events in the light of past atrocities.  It is a must see production. Running time two hours and 30 minutes.

CAST: Sarah Agnew (Sara Muller); Elijah Alexander (Kurt Muller); Emma Curtin (Babette Muller); James Detmar (Joseph); Kate Guentzel (Marthe); Jonah Horowitz (Bodo Muller); Hugh Kennedy (David Farrelly); Leontyne Mbele-Mbong (Anise); Caitlin O’Connell (Fanny Farrelly); Silas Sellnow (Joshua Muller); Jonathan Walker (Teck De Brancovis).

CREATIVE TEAM: Neil Patel (scenic designer), Raquel Barreto (costume designer), Alexander V. Nichols (lighting designer), and Paul James Prendergast (sound designer/composer).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.

(l to r) Sarah Agnew (Sara Muller), Caitlin O’Connell (Fanny Farrelly), and Elijah Alexander (Kurt Muller) in Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine at Berkeley Rep.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Leave a Reply