Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lady in the Dark: Vergiss für einmal den Weltschmerz

The many selves of Liza Elliott: Lady in the Dark Act I
Photo © Staatstheater Mainz/Martina Pipprich
Matthias Fontheim, departing Intendant of Mainz's Staatstheater, has directed a production of Kurt Weill's effervescent 1941 satire, "Lady in the Dark," as an exuberant, celebratory sendoff. (If this season and what I've heard of past and future ones are anything to go by, the celebration is deserved.)  The fluid staging made admirable use of a turntable in portraying protagonist Liza Elliott's varied environments, real and imagined. The saturated color and lively stage pictures would have been aptly suited to an MGM extravaganza of the time of the piece's creation (synopsis and more here.) I very much enjoyed the evening; while the vogue for psychoanalysis dramas (cf. this and this) has dated, Weill's keen take on the pressures on women (and men) transgressing expected social and gender roles remains pointedly relevant. Mainz's production cheerfully suggests that our best hope lies in facing these problems without taking ourselves too seriously.

Past, present… future? Liza's Act III dilemma. Photo © Staatstheater Mainz/Martina Pipprich

In many ways, the orchestra under Florian Czismadia was the star of the show. Lush strings and rich brass sketched the changing atmospheres of the piece capably and with a light touch. They even gave the entr'acte. There were some cuts in the dialog (translated by Roman Hinze) but the flow was good, if there were a few developments in the plot thereby shortchanged. I was impressed by the quality of ensemble roles, performed with energy and dramatic panache. This helped keep things lively through changes in pace and the potentially-bewildering dream sequences. In speaking roles, both Marcus Mislin as Dr. Brooks, and Nicole Kersten as Liza's friend Maggie, gave sympathetic and nuanced performances. Jürgen Rust was indefatigable as photographer, chauffeur, judge, and circus master, taking the "Tchaikovsky" patter song impressively. Gregor Trakis negotiated the line between the charismatic and the absurd well as Kendall Nesbitt. As the superficially suave, hopelessly sentimental, and sometimes simply hopeless Randy, Stefan Walz was genuinely funny, and surprisingly endearing, and sang with a pleasant tenor. Hendrik Richter also exhibited good comic timing, and an appropriate mixture of bravado and diffident charm, as the resilient Charley. Pascale Pfeuti acquitted herself well in the considerable challenges of the title role. She was vocally strongest in cabaret-style brassiness, but crucially sympathetic in neuroses as well. A ending reconciling hopes for personal and professional growth felt like no more than she deserved. Still more, it even seemed attainable.

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