By the members of the Actors' Ensemble
Directed by Ragnar Freidank
The Actors' Ensemble
Sanford Meisner Theater
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler
In the utter darkness, ghostly sounds and shapes surrounded the audience - the actors moved through the aisles and were seen only vaguely, engendering a feeling of dread and fear. This was the introduction to I Have Never Been Here, a theatre piece assembled by The Actor's Ensemble out of historical documents and stories of people in prison camps, concentration camps, labor camps. Their recreation of the horrific experience was only partially successful though, in spite of the research and creative performing that made up the performance.
Possibly in an effort to give the experience a global meaning, there was no specific setting for any of the 14 scenes (some complete with sub-scenes) dealing with the degradation, hunger, panic, and despair of life in the camps. But because there was nothing specific about the scenes, it all tended to blend together. Again, that was likely the point, that human degradation is universal and it reduces evil to an unimaginable banality. But theatrically, much was missing - a sense of where and whom. If the experience of Auschwitz and a prison are to be shown as similar, they need to be grounded in their differences as well. Without indication of which scene was set where, who these people were, and how they got where they are, some narrative interest was lost. Much of the performance was in pantomime and movement, which also kept the subject at a distance from the audience's emotions.
Still, there was some strong stuff here. Playing games takes on a whole new aura when the kids are ill-clothed and hungry. The experience of a piece of food and how it is (or is not) shared becomes a test of character and humanity. Death is everywhere, although the use of prop masks became another impediment to emotional involvement. The main focus of the set was black-and-white alternating fields painted on a backdrop, which absorbed and reflected the color and brightness of the excellent lighting design (lighting/sets Edgar Weinstock). Throwing the actors into shadows or garishly brightening them worked in tandem with the way sound was used throughout. This use of sound -- voices, tappings, knockings -- was director Ragnar Friedank's finest achievement in the piece -- it often made for more meaning than the actors. Three women making a kind of music on found items, weaving voices and sounds and thereby rediscovering a bit of their own humanity, was a high point; an older man telling a story in a Chinese-sounding gibberish became touching, but as with most of the piece, the lack of specificity made it disappointing. Were they in Borneo in WWII? A prison ship? Siberia? (Nah, not cold enough. But still . . ..)
The costumes were a dull-colored collection of mismatched pajamas and other random clothes, which again was emblematic, but non-specific. There were several striking tableaux, each of which caught something of the randomness and shock of death, as well as its inevitability. The ensemble of actors, all fine movers and emoters, were Benedicta Bertau, Melania Levitsky, Laurie Portocarrero, Ted Pugh, Fern Sloan, Susan Willerman, and Glen Williamson. They were not individually identified by part, which also fit in with the theme of the piece.
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Copyright 2002 David Mackler