l to r:
stuart williams and michael countryman
By Julia Polinsky
First things first: Martin Casellaís beautifully written play, The
Report, is so good, it doesnít matter that the Lynn Redgrave Theater has no
air conditioning. This touching and disturbing play, based on the novel by
Jessica Francis Kane, rewards the audience so deeply that watching it while
parboiling in your own sweat becomes a privilege.
Bracketed by 1972 and 1973, the body of the play tells the tale of
a terrible civilian accident that took place in London, during World War II.
173 people were crushed, in an incident in the Underground station at Bethnal
Green, which was used as an air-raid shelter during the war. The
government-mandated report that followed the incident smacked of cover-up, and
thereby hangs the tale of The Report.
The document itself was written Ė in a hush-hush manner-- by
magistrate Laurence Dunne, shortly after the incident, in March, 1943. 30 years
later, a young man arrives on Dunneís doorstep, with an eye to making a BBC
documentary about the Bethnal Green incident, determined to interview the
magistrate who wrote the report. Sir Laurence, as he is now styled, agrees to
talk about the incident. Memory cascades; the older Dunne evokes the younger,
the reporter is revealed as a survivor of the incident, and history plays out
But not easily. Throughout the play, past and present blend, in
intermingled incidents that shape the story: a tale of possible source,
possible reasons, possible unpleasant truth. The overwhelming image of The
Report is that of intertwining. At one point, asked to explain why it was
so difficult to remove the bodies, a constable interlaces his fingers, then
twists his hands, explaining that everything was like that, and it was hard to
tell one body from another. The actors, the characters, and the past and
present, tragedy, blame, responsibility, atonement, lies, truth: author Martin
Casella and director Alan Muraoka have twisted and blended them so that they
cannot be separated.
The dozen actors each play at least two roles, and in a brief
moment, an actor may change from 8-year old Young Tilly to Adult Tilly, from
Sir Laurence to just plain Laurence.† The Cockney smartass becomes a soldier;
the firm-mouthed matron of the orphanage morphs into the kind, concerned
girlfriend of the troubled clerk who must list the contents of the corpsesí
L To R:
Michael Countryman And Sophie Sorensen
All the cast members give remarkable performances, with a few
standouts. Sophie Sorensen and David Wells embody their characters particularly
well, switching quickly from Young Tilly to Mrs. Dunne, from Home Secretary
Morrison (with a deliciously perfect vocal tic), to a guilt-ridden constable:
everyone on stage does a splendid job.
Michael Countryman is a revelation, here, and gives possibly the
best performance of his career. As Sir Laurence Dunne, Countryman plays older
and younger versions of only one character. Countryman makes both Dunnes
utterly believable. His nuanced, reserved portrayal of the older Sir Laurence,
and also of his shocked and troubled younger self, anchor the show.
Brian Hemesath designed the excellent, spot-on period costuming.†
The evocative lighting comes from Michael OíConnor, and Christopher Sassano
contributes excellent sound design. Among them, and with scenic design by
Lauren Helpern, these artists take a black box theater, with some light, a few
chairs, a table, a bench, and a long white cloth, and evoke pity and fear in
London in WWII.
That cloth unfolds three times: at the start, as the names of the
victims are read; in the middle, as an evocation of the accident;† and at the
end, as the names of the dead and injured are recited again. Each time, it
wraps and frames a struggling mashup of bodies. Itís the visual evocation of
the lines of truth, lies, family, community, responsibility and atonement that
weave through The Report.
Huge kudos to director Alan Muraoka for wringing the best out of
his actors and his minimal staging, and hereís to the cast for giving their
best. And, last but not least, hereís hoping that the show will move, get
booked for a run. Itís well worth seeing again and again.
The Report, part of Fringenyc
Lynn Redgrave Theater at the Culture Project
45 Bleecker St., NY, NY 10012