The Pain in Spain

On April 26, 1937, a Monday market day, Nazi aircraft bombed the Spanish town of Guernica. The raid lasted three and a quarter hours, leaving 1754 dead and 889 wounded—nearly all civilians. Later that year, Pablo Picasso completed his massive canvas Guernica, exhibited it at the Paris Expo, and never returned to Spain again.

The destruction of a town and the anguish of an artist—the dramatic potential is undeniable. Yet Picasso’s Guernica (Thalia Spanish Theatre), despite the best of intentions, falls flatter than a Cubist canvas. The 1969 script, by Spanish playwright Jerónimo López Mozo, resembles a prose poem—and a prosaic one at that—more than a play. But perhaps something is lost in the translation, courtesy of Ellen Bay. When a bull proclaims, “Don’t be afraid of me. The sacred symbol of popular mythology is just as frightened as you are,” you can only hope it sounded better in Spanish.

Characters offer musings or depersonalized commentary, almost exclusively in monologue form. Director Angel Gil Orrios relegates any action to wordless interludes. While some of these are quite lovely—particularly when the men in the cast dance—others have a schizophrenic quality. In one scene, the bombs begin to fall, only to disappear, replaced by a dance between horse and master, then master and mistress. Then the bombs fall again.

Orrios does produce some elegant stage pictures, including a clever echo of the canvas. And the masks by Elizabeth Wittling Lipton and costumes by Harry Nadal deepen the effect. Jode Romano also deserves plaudits for his sharp and sexy choreography.

Picasso’s Guernica marks this 23-year-old theater’s first foray into English-speaking drama. How ironic that these same words tarnish what might have been a fine show. —Alexis Soloski

The Mild Party

David P. Gordon’s bowered, rose-marble terrace for Hotel Universe (Blue Light Theater Co.), against lighting designer Christopher J. Landy’s darkening, star-studded sky, is magical. But far more wizardry than that is needed to levitate this weighty 1929 angst-fest by Philip Barry, best known for his airy Holiday and The Philadelphia Story.

As in The Wild Party (pick one), Barry’s play gives us a 1920s gathering. Instead of reveling, though, these “lost generation” arty guests at Ann’s south of France villa yawn and whine. Talk of a friend’s suicide sparks a spate of death-wish revelations among the desultory badinage. Each guest is tormented by the past. Well, not to worry. At Hotel Universe, a house with a spooky rep, past and present blend, and those you’re with begin to look like . . . well, those you used to know. Think of a Gestalt therapy group, where the guy in the chair opposite assumes your brother’s face and voice—and you finally exorcise your demons.

Richard Easton, so formidable in Waste, strides onstage as Ann’s dying, slightly dotty, but deeply wise father and soon becomes nearly everyone’s dad. As Lily’s viciously critical drunk of a pa, he reduces her teenage self to tears; as the sire of rich boy Pat’s doomed love, he icily dismisses the guilty youth. While some of these minidramas have their power, not even Easton’s force can make their swirling succession credible. For the rest, the cast generally bear their affected literary lines like ill-fitting clothes, although Kali Rocha’s brittle Lily delivers some Dorothy Parker-ish quips with waspish brio.

Director Darko Tresnjak plays their griefs in deadly earnest, when the piece’s sunny conclusion invites gentle satire if not outright farce. Maybe these folks’ foibles really aren’t funny, but Hotel Universe would be easier to watch if they were. —Francine Russo

Block Busting

Morris Berg has written six Philip Roth-type novels that embarrass his middle-class Jewish family, particularly rabbi brother Walter. But after scoring with titles like Gefilte Fish Unleashed and Torah Torah Torah, he’s having trouble starting his next best-seller. The cause: writer’s block that seems to be a facet of what he repeatedly calls his “midlife crisis.” Thus, Richard Abrons’s drama, The Brothers Berg (Here), is a midlife-crisis/writer’s-block play, which would be fine were the author offering fresh insights into the double-barreled cliché.

Abrons does give the bile-spewing Morris a few intriguing quirks. He was born with a bum leg and three testicles, traits undoubtedly at the root of his recurring (and visible) dreams and daydreams. Sister-in-law Myra—she’s married to Walter—has a different explanation for the Jewish anti-Semitism barely masking Morris’s literate self-loathing. “It’s your mom and dad,” she explains. Myra also admits that she and Walter once rented a pornographic video featuring Tamara Toy, a Russian actress who’s been hoping Morris will marry her.

But if the brothers Berg aren’t run-of-the-mill siblings, neither does their long-standing feud provide shivering theatrics. During the talky proceedings, Morris launches a lengthyact 1 sound-off at his clerically patient bro. Then, addressing Walter’s congregation for much ofact 2, Morris loses his temper when a Q&A he instigates gets out of hand, particularly agitating the temple’s main financial contributor. Having gotten ugly, however, Morris realizes the depth of his despair and rights things. Whereupon his blocks—writing and familial—crumble.

Although Davis Hall, Doug Olear, Len Stanger, and, especially, Lisa Bostnar and Carolyn Vujcec do their utmost under Jay Broad’s not-broad direction, The Brothers Berg is tsuris in a teapot. —David Finkle