Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Blue Flower"

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note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth


The Blue Flower"

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

Beverly residents Jim and Ruth Bauer are no strangers to the art and music worlds, but their realm has extended to theater in recent years, when they wrote “The Blue Flower,” an ambitious, curious amalgam of art, music, history, videography, and drama, based on the Weimar period in Germany. Their plot is inspired by the lives of four famous people: Expressionist-Dada artists Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Franz Marc (1880-1916) and Hannah Hoch (1889-1978), with physicist-chemist Marie Curie (1867-1934) thrown into the mix.

The production uses the popular vehicle of infusing historic and artistic videography as background to enhance segues and dramatic scenes and numbers,while creating a cabaret atmosphere. An eight-piece Weimar band performs prominently on stage at the Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Translated and/or projected explanations of main character Max Baumann’s “Maxperanto,” (a language that sounds like gibberish but which he created to preserve the meaning of his art) is helpful. Max’s language is based on Dada, an abstraction that mimicked artists’ work during the Surrealist-experimental era. The artists’ intention was to break down language to sounds and syllables, in order to reveal the meaning behind their work or words. Before the play begins, roaming accordionist Peter Bufano entertains guests in the aisles and between rows, inspiring a cabaret atmosphere.

Then the musicians, aptly led by Mark Rubinstein, provide an opening introduction to the characters and setting, as the projections on screen inform us of the production’s beginning, in 1889, then shifts to a New York City park in 1955, as Max sings and the screen translates, “Things Don’t Change (That Much)”. He is an artist, creating a collage, as people walk past,and pause, to ponder what he’s doing.

From there, the musical production biffs and bams, through dialogue and songs, with rhythms ranging from Berlin cabaret to American country-western, from wartime explosions to romantic ballads of love and longing, from earthy to ethereal, ugly to surreal. Songs with titles like “Puke” and “Eyes and Bones” aren’t love letters in the sand, but the music, overall, is varied.

The musical theater piece shifts back and forth, non-chronologically, through flashbacks and fast-forwards, to the early 1900s, 1955, 1930s, and throughout the late 1800s, from Germany to Switzerland, Paris, Austria-Hungary, Texas, Cambridge, Mass., and other locales. Although the Bauers highlight significant historic events, especially through silent films, projections, and accompanying narrations, separating fact from fiction while focusing on international artistic and scientific titans, their format creates confusion. It isn’t until the end that this fragmented, jagged story comes together, and some folks in the audience understand what it’s all about.

The black-and-white film clips trace Prince Rudolph of Austria-Hungary, his cousin Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914; the international ties and events leading to World War I; the battlefields; the debauched and artistic hiatus between wars; the rise of the Third Reich and escalation of World War II, threaded together through a romantic tale, punctuated by Clive Goodwin’s thunderous sound effects. “The first world war ended when they ran out of 17-year-old boys,” Max orated during his lecture at Harvard in 1954.

The confusion stems from the Bauers’ fuse authentic heroes and historic events with their imagination. Maria, a chemist-physicist who was the first female professor in Paris, is fashioned after Mme. Marie Curie, who founded the X-ray and radiation. The Bauers’ main protagonist, Max Baumann, loves Maria, who loves their mutual friend, Franz, who returns Maria’s affection.

However, the Bauers accurately capture Franz Marc’s love of painting horses, and Max’s girlfriend, Hannah Hoch’s, outlandishness and fearlessness - also, the fact that she remained in Nazi Germany to preserve the artistic movement of her day, despite the Nazi defamation and destruction of her contemporaries’ and her work. The Bauers also accurately relate several facets of Beckmann’s (Baumann’s ) life- and his death in a New York City park. And the cast is outstanding. Daniel Jenkins as Max, speaks volumes with his lowkey portrayal; Meghan McGeary, Jim Bauer’s DAGMAR musical partner, powerfully portrays Max’s fearless, artistic, Bohemian girlfriend, Hannah, while unleashing her full vocal range.

Lucas Kavner is believably vulnerable as Max’s artist friend, Franz, who dies in battle during World War I; and Teal Wicks as Franz’s girlfriend, Maria, shines in her solo, “Eiffel Tower”.

Movement director-actor Tom Nelis adds a paranormal gracefulness as Fairytale Man, while Conner Christiansen and Paul Shafer round out the cast as Typewriter and Sewing Machine Man, respectively.

The Bauers’ story depicts that slight time period of the Weimar democracy, that encouraged society between world wars, when art and humanity flourished, and free spirits prevailed. The symbolic Blue Flower was society’s beacon of hope and regeneration as people celebrated the survival of beauty amidst the ugliness of warfare.

BOX INFO: Two-act musical play, written by Jim and Ruth Bauer, directed by Will Pomerantz, appearing now through Jan. 8, 2011, at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge. The show is recommended for 13-year-olds and older. Showtimes are Tuesday-Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday, 2,7:30 p.m.; no shows Dec. 24,25, Jan. 2; Dec. 31, Jan. 7, at 2 p.m. only. Tickets start at $25; seniors $10 discount off regular ticket price; student rush tickets are $15; group rates also.Visit www.AmericanRepertoryTheater.org, the Box Office, or call 617-547-8300.

1 December - 8 January
"The Blue Flower"
AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATRE
@ Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE MA
1(617)547-8300

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