Changing relationships and ideologies among a small circle of artists and activists is the bedrock of “A Bright Room Called Day,” the intriguing parallel-world play set in both Berlin during the 1930s and contemporary L.A. that drew attention to its author, Tony Kushner, a few years before “Angels in America.” The handsome, thought-provoking production of “Bright Room” just opened at the innovative Theatre of N.O.T.E. makes the long wait for its Los Angeles premiere more than worthwhile.
Most of the theater’s small stage is given over to the comfortable apartment of German actress Agnes Eggling (Sarah Lilly) and her Hungarian lover, Vealtninc Husz (Stewart Skelton). Their friends include the beautiful but shallow actress, Paulinka (a radiant and completely spot-on Dorie Barton), the pragmatic painter and Communist supporter, Annabella (Cathy Carlton), and their fussy, astute homosexual chum, Baz (played with droll, understated elegance by Thom Cagle), who works at the Institute of Human Sexuality.
Hugging a downstage corner are a cluttered desk and tall, narrow bookcase representing the home of Zillah (Tamar Fortgang), a Jewish art critic for the Los Angeles Times.
Zillah is haunted by nightmares and a disturbing sense of connectedness to the terrifying times being played out on stage behind her, which she senses on a primal, genetic level. Projected on the upstage wall are dialogue cards used in silent movies that here present headlines to carry us through the fall of the Weimar Republic and the frightening rise of Fascism.
Much credit is due to director Gleason Bauer and scribe Steven Leigh Morris, who penned the counterpoint, localized story of Zillah. In their own ways, each beautifully and subtly mirrors past and present in both character actions and storyline.
Bauer also exhibits a keen eye for character detail in her set and costume designs that grounds in reality a story that sometimes drifts over into the surreal. These moments, such as the nocturnal visitations from a ghostly old woman (Pamela Gordon), or the astonishing conjuration of the Devil (a suave Albert Dayan, who gives one helluva grand performance), give an amusing, but unsettling edge to Kushner’s intelligent, often poetic, meditation on the continuing allurement of evil in the world.