note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Carl A. Rossi
Hildegard … Georgette Beck
Herr Parker … Jim Robinson
Charley … Paul Morin
Georgette Beck, a cherished character actress in North Shore community theatre, heads JoAnne Brasil’s THE WANDER THEATER, world-premiering at Salem’s Griffen Theatre. Ms. Beck impersonates a real-life German-Jewish actress named Hildegard Zander who performed in Germany between the two world wars; Ms. Brasil, a published author, came to know Ms. Zander in old age and mental decline and was moved enough by the latter’s life-adventures to preserve parts of it in script-form. The results are uneven, even confusing: Hildegard alternates between talking directly to the audience, to an imaginary audience, to old and blind Herr Parker who drops by on a daily basis (he’s surprised to find himself in a theatre, not Hildegard’s home) and to Charley, a young screenwriter slumming as a waiter; when Hildegard (or Ms. Beck?) “dries up”, she calls for her script and reads passages aloud to…which audience? (Numerous slides from the woman’s past are flashed, upstage.) The evening concludes with Hildegard thanking her audience (presumably us) and promising to read aloud one of her short stories, next time. The program states that Ms. Zander’s family granted permission to use the woman’s documents and photos; no doubt, Ms. Brasil felt obliged to make nice-nice with Hildegard’s life and to leave out any warts: this woman who claims she was an actress never demonstrates her craft (was her “wander theater” a Yiddish one?), and Nazi Germany’s persecution of its Jews is lightly touched upon as are Hildegard’s emigration to America and the fates of her mother and grandmother, left behind. What remains is an old sweetheart, slightly potty, and, apart from a few tears for Dresden, bares no emotional scars from her past --- and this vacuum cannot be completely blamed on Altzheimer’s. With so many paths, Ms. Beck advances straight down the middle; a wise route to take, here --- and she’s wonderful, of course.
Jim Robinson makes a firm and feisty Herr Parker, always on the wrong side of the zeitgeist, but Paul Morin has little to do as Charley: his dialogue is sound-bytes inserted to break up Hildegard’s monologue. The Griffen is such a spiffy little black-box theatre that Jean Fogle merely has to group some furniture and hang two posters for the evening’s simple but classy setting.