by Erin Layton · March 21, 2014
Playwrights on New Plays #57 Erin Layton comments on A Snowfall in Berlin at La Tea
In the Author’s Note for A Snowfall in Berlin, a new play produced by the Nylon Fusion Theatre Company now playing at Teatro Latea, Don Nigro says he tries to achieve in his playwriting what philosophers or psychologists strive for in their life’s work or great inventors in their master creations. The play, he writes, is something of a montage - a construction made “entirely of fragments of other people” and love is “an unfortunate series of arbitrary and false associations”. It is in tackling these major issues of love, order/disorder in the universe and the relationship between life and art that make Nigro’s writing a noble pursuit but not necessarily an interesting play.
As A Snowfall in Berlin begins, the characters enter the space strategically placed like pieces on a chessboard, remaining in their private corners until they reveal their dirty little secrets. Their actions are cautious and deliberate as they move, or rather slither, about the stage ready to pounce in case of a threat. All characters are complicit in a steady game of manipulation, seduction, deceit and murder. They take immense pleasure in this wicked play of corruption but as the truth slowly reveals itself, they are more like a house of cards, flimsy pieces of paper stacked on top of the other. If one falls the whole house topples.
A young actress, Rosa [Brandi Bravo] moves to the big city to pursue her dreams but instead loses her sanity and is found dead, drowned in her bathtub. There is an empty bottle of sleeping pills next to her corpse but the suspicion is that she’s been murdered and by someone that she intimately knew. Detective Mulligan (Don Carter), arrives on the scene but it’s really a movie set where the victim was shooting a film only days prior. The people on the set – director, writer, producer and actor - were both the dead girl’s closest confidantes and suspects in her untimely death. Upon investigation, the detective discovers that each one of these supposed confidantes are full of defenses that teeter on talk therapy, opening up their souls in feeble attempts to prove their innocence. The detective’s series of examinations and deepening involvement in the murder case become an obsession and he ultimately finds himself caught inside the vicious web, another player in their little game. The lines of what is real and what isn’t or better yet what exists in the world of film and what exists in reality become blurred and drowsy like a dream. In the dream, people are beautiful and sensual and the water is just right but if you stay inside much longer you lose your life.
The structure of the play is simple. A girl is dead and everyone is suspect. The accused parties staunchly and ineffectively defend their motives but are responsible for some element of the girl’s madness, suicide or not. The device of the detective, the only "real" character in the play – an innocent lamb in the company of wolves - is not original and his psychological plight as predictable as the drowned damsel in distress. In this 100 minute production without an intermission, there are no true mysteries here, no opportunity for the audience to engage their imaginations or even take a breath and craft together the details of the girl’s murder. The characters frequently speak in idioms and after a while, their meanings bleed together until they all sound the same. And everyone remains on the stage for the entirety of the play, motives and all, including the innocent victim. She is on display naked in a bathtub, alluring even post-mortem, and she addresses us from the grave with revealing bits of information about her life and relationships that further strip the play of any element of mystery. I would have preferred for her to remain silent with only her presence hanging in the room like a curse.
Director Shaun Peknic cast a tight ensemble of strong and sexy actors who assist in suspending the whodunit of the play with their slick delivery and manipulative appeals for sympathy. Carter is especially strong as the detective, the outsider who consistently fights to free himself from their tangled web as is Jessica Vera [Emilia], who packs a punch as the stubborn Italian film producer with her colorful delivery and accent and often hysterical bursts of sarcasm and irony. Sound designer, Andy Evan Cohen, set designer, Cassie Dorland and lighting designer, Wilburn Bonnell successfully collaborate on making Nigro’s world a reality - one that is carefully balanced and blurred between violence and seduction.
By the end of the play, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised at the reveal of the girl’s death. However, after 100 minutes of repeated idioms and metaphorical turns of phrase, I felt drowned, drugged by over-intellectualized language that lost its luster after the first 30 minutes so that the truth arrived like a weak flicker as opposed to an explosive flame.