Liza Wade Green in Kinderspiel. Photo by Carrie Leonard.
BOTTOM LINE: Adults play like children to raise larger questions about the role of art in society.
Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Kinderspiel, a revival of the 2007 Stolen Chair Theatre Company production, focuses on adults who return to the playtime of their childhood as a means of escaping the harsh realities of life in Berlin during the tumultuous 1920s (in which Germany suffered the brunt of blame for World War I and the country found itself in economic ruin). Soon enough their play is seen as the stuff of artistic expression.
Louisa Reissner (Liza Wade Green) works as a cabaret dancer whose stardom is plummeting. Once the toast of the night club world, she now performs in dingy bars for paltry tips. Kinderspiel opens with her lackluster, mechanical performance of a dance routine that was intended to be coquettish in its original choreography, but now has been rendered dreary and haunting through Louisa's apparent disinterest. Lost and directionless, she chances upon a stairway to the basement of an abandoned club where she finds a slew of abandoned items and turns them into makeshift toys. Louisa lives alone in the darkness for days on end, her activities consisting solely of sleep and playing make believe.
Max Haussmann (David Skeist), a listless homosexual man from an aristocratic family, feels a similar apathy toward life. He stumbles down the basement stairs shortly after Louisa and finds her in the midst of play, a lamp shade covering her head. While he is at first put off by Louisa's strange behavior, he soon recognizes her as the cabaret star of years past and is intrigued. Louisa engages him in her game and he decides to stay and play.
Eventually blackmarketeer Heinrich (David Berent) -- who also narrates -- chances upon the duo at play and brings in a paying audience watch them, dubbing them the Kinderspiels (German for "child's play"). Their show is part performance art, part fetish act, part political commentary. And while the two seem to engage in their make believe with seemingly wide eyed innocence, their pretend scenarios become satires of the uncertain adult world they are trying to escape.
Sonja (Liz Eckert), a pretentious journalist given to grandiose statements, covers the depraved nightclub scene in Berlin during this time. She attends a performance of the Kinderspiels and is immediately smitten, writing long laudatory phrases on the duo's work. Her articles soon attract a larger audience and Sonja herself convinces them to let her join in with the show.
While the plot and setup of Kinderspiel may seem silly, the characters' playtime raises larger
issues about the role of art in times of economic crisis and a desire to return to the innocence of childhood.
The actors all shine within their roles, convincingly portraying adults with a desire to return to their roots. Eckert adds much humor to her affected character. Green is haunting as the faded cabaret star.
The playtime scenarios constitute the majority of the production; while there is a point to the frolicking, it may grow tiresome for theatergoers looking for more action (the arc occurs, albeit not until the end). In order for one to truly appreciate it, a childlike mentality is necessary (complimentary wine helps this immensely). Those who find themselves able to appreciate the youthful behavior (even if perhaps through inebriation) will find the work humorous and timely. And in the end, Kinderspiel tackles adult issues too, raising essential questions about the escapism art offers within the harshness of our daily lives.
(Kinderspiel plays through March 5, 2011 at the Wings Theatre, 154 Christopher Street. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8PM in February and Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM in March. Tickets are $18 or $15 for students and seniors. For tickets and more info, visit stolenchair.org.)