Sunday, November 26, 2017

Describe the Night

Describe the Night
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
November 24, 2017

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company
The New York premier of Rajiv Joseph’s play Describe the Night is presently in previews at Atlantic Theater Company.  It explores the phenomenon of how perception can become reality, and how facts can easily be replaced by fabrications that become acceptable truths.  Mr. Joseph’s writing is luminous and engaging.  The action of the play spans the years from 1920 through 2010.  It follows the events connected by Isaac Babel, considered one of Russia’s greatest writers of his time, and Nicolai Yezhov, who was closely associated with Stalin and became the chief of the Soviet Police from 1936-38.  Their fabricated truths are linked to the plane crash in 2010 that killed the President, First Lady, and virtually every top member of Poland’s government and military.

Danny Burstein & Zach Grenier
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company
In 1920 Isaac Babel (played by Danny Burstein) meets Nicolai Yezhov (played by Zach Grenier).  They are both Soviet Soldiers.  Isaac is writing in his journal, describing the night, and teaches Nikolai how easy it is to tell a believable lie.  Fast forward to the plane crash of 2010, where Mariya, a journalist (played by Nadia Bowers), urgently needs to rent a car to flee the Soviet Police investigation of the events leading up to the crash.  Feliks, the car rental agent (played by Stephen Stocking), gives her his truck to escape unnoticed.  He passes on to her an old journal that was given to him by one of the victims of the plane crash before she died.  This is the journal belonging to Isaac Babel.  The play goes back and forth in time and follows the hand to hand journey of this journal, covered in truth, lies, perceptions, and falsities, from its start in 1920 until it gets into the hands of Vova (played by Max Gordon Moore), the man from St. Petersburg, who is on his way to be one of the most powerful men in the world.

Max Gordon Moore & Nadia Bowers
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company
The cast is superb in bringing clarity and life to the brilliant writing of Mr. Joseph’s play.  Every scene is driven by characters who are rich and real.  Danny Burstein and Zach Grenier juxtapose their characters with traits, physicality, and vocal rhythms that give visceral vigor to every scene they share.  Tina Benko is charming and heartbreaking as Yevgenia, the wife of Nicholai Yezhov.  The chemistry between her and Mr. Burstein is tangible.  Their connection is honest and genuine.  Nadia Bowers is powerful as Mariya.  She shows her range by also playing Mrs. Petrovna.  Max Gordon Moore’s character of Vova grows from an unassuming, eager government employee to a manipulative and aggressive official.

Danny Burstein, Zach Grenier, & Tina Benko
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company
Playwright Rajiv Joseph and director Giovanna Sardelli conquer a huge subject matter that is tightly interwoven with clear themes that are relative to every audience member.  The Atlantic Theater Company production of Describe the Night is running at the Linda Gross Theater through December 24.  The play has many layers that will keep you thinking.  See it with someone with whom you can have a deep, detailed discussion, or be prepared to do as I did and engage the person next to you during the two intermissions.   

Domenick Danza

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