All Quiet on the Western Front @ Red Tape Theatre

3 out of 4 stars

Red Tape Theatre starts their 16th Season with a new adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. Written and Directed by Matt Foss, this version delves into the experiences and harrowing events of 2nd company on the German Front lines during the last year of World War I. The adaptation closely follows the events of the novel told from the perspective of one soldier who speaks to the loss of friends, the deepening of human connections and the growing realization of what is true and what is not in the face of war.

Organic, beaten and antiquated are the words that come to mind to describe this work. An entire environment thrown into the audience’s lap through an artistic display of war. All the elements seem to just work together from Rachel Sypniewski’s costuming and choreography to set design and casting. Everything blends together to create this long lost time that navigates the doldrums and terror of the front lines. Choice moments in the lighting design really drives home this imbalance and creates such a reflective inner display of human consciousness. The post-traumatic stress and unique inner conflict of a soldier’s mind is really displayed visually. The novel became both a runaway bestseller around the world, and a target of scorn for the rising National Socialists German Workers Party and their vision of a new German Reich.  By the time Hitler was made chancellor in 1933, it was declared illegal to own a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front in all of Germany.

The scenic design was what I was most drawn to along with the dynamic blocking in such a minimalist environment. Nick Schwartz hones in on creating the front lines through a backdrop of sticks and barbed wire against a glowing dim horizon sun. Four or five dilapidated and exposed upright pianos create the trenches, paths and used in the sound design with haunting keys creating auditory trauma. Dan Poppen’s sound design was compelling in blending the siren white noise and echoing string plunks of death. Wonderfully constructed and executed!

The only moments that I couldn’t wrap my head around with were the music choices dating from the 70’s. Initially, I believed that it was a motion towards the never-ending cycle of violence, but didn’t seem consistent enough to make a large stamp on the piece. It did not quite fit what I was supposed to be feeling and only seemed appropriate with “For What It’s Worth” (Stop Turn What’s That Sound) by Buffalo Springs, which is often associated as an anti-war or protest song of the late 1960’s and 70’s. It fit the particular scene well, but overarching late 60’s music incorporated made me wonder how much of a link to the modern day there was supposed to be.

 

Elena Victoria Feliz plays Paul, who narrates the show. Feliz does an excellent job in capturing the timidness, honesty and observance. Caitlin Ewald’s rendition of fearless resourceful Kat and closest comrade of Paul was mesmerizing. Balancing between icy stares and charming swagger, Ewald navigates her character’s motivation in survival. The free theatre movement from Red Tape is based in the belief that access to the arts is “essential for our community’s ability to engage in a free exchange of ideas”. This means free public access to high quality theatrical productions. It’s collaborative and accessible mentality definitively shines in this production with a diverse cast portraying the company of male German soldiers. The casting for this production was very well done. Charlotte Mae Ellison in her first Red Tape role puts in work as many supporting rotating characters. Ellison stood out with strong adaptable personas that stood their own ground. Joel Rodriguez, also in a rotating swing role, rounds out the ensemble with wonderful portrayal of empathy and realness to his characters.

 

This adapted production was created with permission and in association with the Remarque estate. In a footnote, Red Tape includes that their approach to this work was charged with a eagerness to learn and examine this complex cycle—from the time of Remarque’s writing and to our immediate present. This is a co-production with the Greenhouse Theatre and the University of Toledo. It captures the chaos and the quietude of war. Moments in normality and joy disrupted by terror and blood. The 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice just passed in 2018. This is a wonderful production that brings solemnity, reflection and honor to this important milestone. Bravo to all that worked to bring this work to fruition!

 

All Quiest on the Western Front runs now through September 14th, 2019 at Greenhouse Theatre Center at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. For more information, please visit www.RedTapeTheatre.org.

 

In honor of the 100th Anniversary of Armistice, there is also a compelling film by Peter Jackson called “They Shall Not Grow Old”. Please see my previous article on that film/project here.  

Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!