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The Report

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 before us.

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 pockets.

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