My husband and I have rather different viewpoints on historical war movies. While we both feel they’re important, he enjoys them and I simply can’t. It’s not that I’m that squeamish about gore, but more so that those movies focus so much on showing the physical suffering (along with a massive special effects budget), that they usually leave me with the feeling that the violence has been appropriately portrayed, but some of the emotion and inner turmoil of the characters has been lost.
Well, and maybe I’m a little squeamish too.
But with the theatre, it’s an entirely different story. I had the pleasure of being invited to review a play at the Taproot Theatre last Saturday night – my first time at this charming theatre on 85th street and Greenwood Avenue North, just west of Greenwood Park. The Taproot, which got its start back in 1976 as a small touring group, is now one of Seattle’s largest mid-size theatre companies. When I learned the play was the story of a German martyr responsible for two failed assassination attempts on Hitler, I was anything but squeamish. Bring on the inner battle of what is right, what is morale and the question of what one man is willing to do for his beliefs.
The Beams Are Creaking, written by Douglas Anderson and directed by Karen Lund, focuses on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and eventual member of Abwehr, the German Military Intelligence during Nazi Germany. Matt Shimkus brought an immediately likable, affable quality to the role of Bonhoeffer, who has just returned to his family after a stint overseas in America. As Bonhoeffer learns from his parents, brother, sister and brother-in-law about the rumors that have been circulating about Hitler and the Nazi party in his absence, he brushes them off with a line that, while amusing, is still bone-chillingly ominous decades later:
“It could never happen in Germany.”
A cast of nine pulls off 31 characters without a hitch. Nathan Jeffrey as Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s fellow conspirator, had me smiling, yet his portrayal of Hitler’s representative Gerhard was so beautifully arrogant and infuriating I was twisting my program in my hands all throughout his scene. Kim Morris was spot on as the supportive but worried mother, and Robert Gallaher as Dietrich’s father (along with three other characters) perfectly delivered some of the funniest lines of the play. Simon Pringle as Dietrich’s brother Klaus had some truly heart-wrenching moments, and Gerald B. Browning, Don Brady and Rob Martin brought heart (or in some cases, horrifying lack of heart) to each of the remaining fifteen characters they covered. And I’m almost embarrassed to admit it wasn’t until the play ended that I realized Dietrich’s sister Sabine and fiancee Maria were both played by Sarah Ware – I was just too engrossed in the story and the characters to notice.
While the cast is certainly to thank for that, credit is also due to the fantastic set and staging. The three-tiered stage and props were set in such a way that the story in the first act flowed from home to office to city streets to even the Olympics with virtually no transition time. The addition of several different radios broadcasting brief news reports as the war progresses also aided both in creating seamless transitions and a perfect old world ambiance.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis 23 days before their surrender, and brutally so: Naked and hung by a thin wire. In my mind, the movie version of this would be unwatchable (for me). Obviously this gruesome and horrific moment is not featured in The Boards Are Creaking. But Dietrich’s time in prison, his faith, and the visible change in beliefs as the realization sets in that resistance isn’t always enough are more heartbreaking, tense and real than any bloody execution scene.
One final note – the music. Dietrich’s soliloquy on life as a canon with God as the lead melody and all other components of life as the imitations that form the contrapuntal composition was beautiful, and the subtle integration of music throughout the play – the family rehearsing a song as a distraction from relentless tension, Dietrich’s soft crooning of “Nobody Knows” while lying on his prison bed – all lead to the final moment, where the music comes together to make what would otherwise be a bleak ending one filled with joy and hope instead.
The Beams Are Creaking will be running until April 23rd. Reserve your tickets by calling 206-781-9707 (box office hours are Tuesday through Saturday from noon until 5pm) or by purchasing online. The theatre will also be hosting a panel discussion on April 12th from 7:00pm to 8:30pm. Admission is free, but an RSVP is required.
[image courtesy of Taproot Theatre]