The main character is Agnes (Samantha Jane Young), a German actress of no great repute with left leanings but few deep convictions, whose lover is Husz (Yalin Ozucelik), a Hungarian filmmaker and far more passionate Trotskyite. Several others come and go, including an artist of socialist posters, a homosexual, and another actress. Even some communist party officials drop in, Agnes’ apartment being an oasis of convivial safety in increasingly dangerous times. However, Agnes herself is a fairly nondescript personality compared to her lively friends, a central figure rather than an active main protagonist, whose character largely lacks much agency of her own.
While her friends are forced to deal with the encroaching Nazi monolith, Agnes mostly gets progressively scared and depressed, increasingly haunted by the strange spectre of an old lady. Although one feels sympathy for her plight, Agnes ultimately seems to be an examination of the old question of “doing nothing in the face of evil”, as so many Germans did, although in her case we see how being passive tortures and eventually destroys her soul.
While working as a powerful human drama against this backdrop of fascism, the characters’ (differing) communist perspectives are particularly interesting, and the play as a whole is something of a meditation on the humanity and immediacy of history, a plea not to ignore the past. An additional framing device features a zealous young Jewish American woman (Emma Palmer) who comes to Berlin in 1990, hoping to feel closer to history while exiling herself from the society of Reagan and (the first) Bush that she finds so repulsive. Taking up residence in what used to be Agnes’ apartment, we observe something of an additional haunting, as women inhabiting the same space across different eras eventually begin to perceive each other.
This play is fairly dense in social and political history, but in the best possible way, whilst still remaining deeply personal. Kushner’s imaginative, fiercely intelligent script is like a large, satisfying meal – there’s quite a lot to digest but every bite is delicious.
The third of NIDA’s 3 Reality Bites series of overlapping productions showcasing their graduating actors, A Bright Room Called Day features a collection of marvellous new talent. Ozucelik has enormous gusto and credibility as the heavily-accented true believer, and captures the character’s melancholic parting moments with great skill. Furthermore, it is an impressive demonstration of the actor’s dramatic range, having previously performed a side-splitting comic role in the farce The Game Of Love And Chance. Emma Palmer, who was sensational as the lynchpin of Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! is similarly ebullient as the present-day woman, and is definitely an actor to keep an eye out for in future.
Amy Usherwood (Amy Adams, until recently – I’m told some of the 3rd years are in the process of taking on stage names) is particularly good as the amoral yet conflicted actress Paulinka who, unlike Agnes and her other friends, is tempted to work for the Nazis in order to stay employed. Speaking of deals with the devil, Lucifer himself makes an appearance, one of a trio of roles played by Anthony Gooley who has managed to employ his abundant comedic talents in a far more restrained fashion than his unfettered mania in Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!
Much of the credit should go to director Anthony Skuse, who has done a splendid job with Kushner’s text, finely balancing the many roles in this intense drama, ensuring each character and their respective positions got their due. Excellent lighting design by Mel Dyer greatly enhanced the use of Rita Carmody’s elegant set, all excellently utilised by Skuse.
A Bright Room Called Day is entertaining, moving, and edifying: exactly what good theatre should be.
A Bright Room Called Day
by Tony Kushner
Venue: Parade Studio NIDA | 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington
Season: 12 - 20 October | Matinee: Saturday 13 October 2pm
Performances: Evenings 7.30pm; Matinees 2pm
Prices: Adult $25 | Conc $15 | Groups 10+ $15
Bookings: 1300 795 012 or ticketek.com.au