Paris Time, by Steven Peterson. Directed by Gordon Greenberg. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Marcel Jeannin, Jenny Ashman, Kelly Wolf; rehearsal photo: Michael Eck
"In German that word is Kristallnacht."
In a modern day Paris two Americans struggle with the reality of the times we live in as this world premiere production of the play "Paris Time" by Steven Peterson moves along. Charlie is an engineer leading an international company in a humanitarian effort and his wife is a Francophile who enjoys the world around her. She is Jewish; he is not; their marriage carries many regrets, including her inability to carry a child to term. They share a mutual friend, Reina, a French woman who works for Charlie and who also spends time documenting the new France, the growing anti-semitic violence that threatens her own existence in her native country. Charlie and Deborah are visited by a senior executive who stays with them in their swank arrondissement flat and also by another company man, a Frenchman named Phillipe who seems to have a fascination with Deborah that goes above and beyond good taste.
Wally Dunn; rehearsal photo: Michael Eck
While Reina and Deb are friends, their relationship is fraught with a mixture of misplaced emotions. Reina is like a daughter to the older Deborah. The American brings out underlying anger in the French woman. When it appears that Reina's own situation in the office is threatened, Deb leaps to her defense and sets off a series of incidents that could easily bring down the world she knows.
In spite of all this fine dramatic premise, the first act of this rather short play falls short on dramatic tension. It is, in fact, rather predictable. The second act, however, quickly revives interest in these people as unexpected things begin to happen. Reina, who has had trouble before, finds herself a victim of anti-semitic Kristallnacht-like behavior. If you aren't familiar with the term, often referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, it was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938 carried out by SA paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians. German authorities looked on without intervening. In effect Reina suffers a personal attack along these same lines and that creates barriers between herself and her American friends.
The visiting American business executive, Martin, is played by Wally Dunn. The character is familiar in our American landscape, a developer who sees bottom line as top interest and who is affronted easily by others in spite of having his private, corporate jet waiting. His personal level is seemingly under assault, though in truth it is not. Dunn plays this role very well and very believably. His show of high dudgeon is excellent and his curious level of contrite behavior is markedly false. I liked his work in the role very much.
Jenny Ashman plays the French Jewess, Reina, with sensitivity and strength, breathing more reality into the role in Act One than the writing seems to call for. In Act Two when she faces her own reality, she is superb.
"Les enfants du monde" Americans are called in this play, "the children of the world," an attack on their lack of sophistication and comprehension. Two of them, Charlie and Deborah, are the real center of this play. They are smart, worldly, attractive, successful. They are also the victims of those they trust and rely on and this is the real crux of the drama here. Deborah feels ignored by her husband, left to one side as he devotes himself to work. Charlie feels emasculated as his wife spends her time on other things and other people. His love for her is downgraded to distant jealousy, especially when his associate, Phillipe, begins to notice her and woo her in his sly, French manner. These people are where the play works best.
Tom Templeton plays Phillipe. He is just handsome enough to make a play for this married woman and both turn her on and turn her off simulataneously. His own actions are ultimately his downfall in both public love and private war. Templeton turns on the charm nicely and when he turns it off he becomes as sinister a human being as any that walked through the Warner Brothers films of the 1940s. He manages this without ever startling us with the contrasts. This is very good acting.
Marcel Jeannin plays Charlie. You can see the handsome youth that attracted the woman he married and you can hear the wretch he has become as his lack of success as a husband has tortured him. Again, the actor plays his role with talent and with great success.
Surrounded by men who have wooed her, Kelly Wolf's Deborah is a force to be reckoned with. She has ruthlessly pursued things outside of her control and made a mess of them. She is caught in a romantic atmosphere that confuses and frightens her. She is absolutely sure of her marital relationship even when proofs fall out of her grasp. I also think that a play is about a single person and the other characters exist in it only to bring about her personal catharsis. Deborah is that character. Wolf plays her to perfection. Ignore the photos of her that accompany this review. On stage at The Rep she seems too young for the part, almost the same age as Ashman's Reina. That one factor kept me questioning the play's verbal gaffes.
Production is lovely here with a fine set by Paul Tate dePoo III, wonderful costumes by Tristan Raines, lovely and sensitive lighting by Robert Denton and fine sound supplied by David Thomas. Director Gordon Greenberg has done a good job with the play, moving tension in and out of the apartment as needed, providing the perfect physical relationships among the characters. The only problem is the play itself. As intriguing as it is, it still needs work, particularly in the first half, to make itself into a fine piece that you'll want to see over and over again. It's close. So close. But it's not really there yet.
Tom Templeton, Kelly Wolf; rehearsal photo: Michael Eck
Paris Time plays at Albany's The Rep, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany, NY through February 18. For information and tickets go to their website at capitalrep.org, or call the box office at 518-445-7469.