Four characters at Bas Bleu face challenges of existence in and after two world wars.
Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 9, 2016
Four characters are at loose ends before, during, and after world wars in Europe in Bas Bleu’s challenging, and fascinating tale – with wonderful music. Caution is involved, as experienced theatre-goers may be over-the-top excited. Persons coming in off the street may wonder what in the world they are seeing. I was somewhere between the two with The Blue Flower.
Jim and Ruth Bauer wrote this show, opening Off-Broadway in 2011, with Bas Bleu providing the Mountain West premier this month. Based on the turbulence of wars in Europe in the last century, the story chases characters from Berlin to Paris to Zurich, beginning and ending in New York’s Central Park. It is a multi-media phenomenon with a terrific orchestra, interesting videos and newsreels, and a live cast.
My frustration with the show is that the authors appear to be smug about letting the audience in on what is happening along the way. Don’t know if it is great writing, or just pretension. The show that I am telling about may not be the show that you see, or that the authors had in mind. All I can do is express my understanding of reading about the show and finally seeing the production. A theatre-going acquaintance e-mailed me that she enjoyed the show so much that she has already seen it twice and purchased the CD. She added “It was enough to experience it and feel the pathos, heightened by the wonderful music. Isn’t it amazing that they could find performers that could act, sing, and do gymnastics? I loved it!”
We first meet Max, an Austrian artist, in the later years of his life. He is in New York City’s Central Park in 1955 reviewing scrapbook pages of photo collages – photos of friends who have made lifelong impressions on him. He stumbles, and the scrapbook pages scatter before him. This
scattering opens the tale as memories of the past come to life.
He was an artist living in Berlin prior to World War I, and became a great friend to another artist, Franz. Mark Terzani and Kiernan Angley are excellent as the two friends whose lives we see. They go to Paris where Franz falls in love with a scientist, Maria; and Max becomes intrigued by Hannah. As World War I arrives, Max joins up as a medical orderly and newspaper correspondent. Franz has a great affection of horses, and joins the cavalry. There is no list of musical numbers in the program, but one of the show’s musical highlights occurs when Maria and Franz are separated.
War is hell, and the carnage of battle and the effects of trying to survive following the actual war are also devastating. In Germany, the period following World War I, the Weimar Republic tried to rebuild the country, only to be replaced by the Nazi regime, resulting in yet another war. The plot shows how characters try to come to terms with these events, sometimes unsuccessfully.
All this is done with an on-stage, eight-person Weirmarband. Their music is sensational, and helps bridge the gap between bewildered tragedy and possible hope. The images on the screen are an intriguing combination of war footage, black-and-white scenes of European cities, at war, and in peacetime.
The four characters are based (very loosely) on the lives of four actual persons: artists Max Beckmann and Franz Mar, Dada artist Hannah Hoch, and renowned scientist, Marie Curie. Characters in the play use only the first names of the persons they may or may not) represent. Mark Terzani has the greatest challenge, as his “Max” had developed his own language, “Maxperanto.” Terzani must speak this during much of the show – sometimes translated by Hannah. Sometimes leaving the audience in complete bewilderment. Kierman as Franz and Kate Austin-Groen as Maria are excellent, and the chemistry of their affection is palatable. They are both are in incredible physical shape, as they perform on a large hanging ring late in the show. Alana Rolfe is also very good as Hannah, the tormented survivor of the two wars who cannot find satisfaction in war or in peacetime.
Wendy Ishii is at the side of the stage throughout the show. She is the Fairytale Man who recounts many of Max’s memories from his book of life, known as “The Blue Flower.” Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye and Frances Lister inhabit the stage becoming human props in attendance at all times. The production is directed by Kit Baker. I cannot imagine how he even began to put the show together, or even help the cast figure out what their moves must be.
This is a production to be greatly admired. I did not understand it all, but I was amazed and enlightened throughout. Highly recommended for an evening of theatrical fascination and enjoyable music.!
“The Blue Flower”
When: Through October 16, 2016
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
For Tickets: 970/498-8949