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This Beautiful Future

Francesca Carpanini,Austin Pendleton, Angelina Fiordellisi, Uly Schlesinger
Photo by Emilio Madrid


This Beautiful Future

By Marc Miller

This Beautiful Future could have been sweet. A World War II love story, and how many of those do we get anymore, where the nice young couple overcome cultural differences, grope toward greater understanding, and point their lives toward, yes, a beautiful future. But Rita Kalnejais has planted too many minefields in her barren landscape, beginning with a couple we neither get to neither know nor like very well, and continuing with coarseness, contemporizing, and padding, in the form of a second couple whose purpose and function we’re left guessing about to the bitter end.


Uly Schlesinger,  Francesca Carpanini  

Photo by Emilio Madrid


Things seem a bit amiss from the moment we enter the Cherry Lane, where Frank J. Oliva’s set is largely bare—a double mattress downstage, a faucet and water basin stage left, a large window upstage—and ’90s rock is playing. What, to set the stage for an abandoned abode in 1944 Chartres? There, German soldier Otto (Uly Schlesinger) awaits his ladylove, French Elodie (Francesca Carpanini), while upstage, behind that window, the proceedings are witnessed by Angelina (Angelina Fiordellisi) and Austin (Austin Pendleton). Using the older couple’s real names clues us in right away that they’re not to be taken as characters, but as observers. They do interact with the youngsters, though, and sing a lot, beginning with a wartime standard, “I Can Dream, Can’t I?,” and continuing into newer stuff. They also repeatedly make if-I-could-do-it-all-over resolutions: I’d admit I was in love with you, I’d be the last at the party, etc. What they have to do with Otto and Elodie is a mystery, and remains one.


Austin Pendleton Angelina  Fiordellisi Uly Schlesinger,  Francesca Carpanini

Photo by Emilio Madrid


Otto and Elodie are in the bedroom of an interred Jewish neighbor, to tryst. Sworn wartime enemies, but drawn to each other, at, respectively, 16 and 17. Why would Elodie pursue Otto? Are there no desirable French boys around? No matter, they tease, flirt, have pillow fights, and eventually climb beneath the sheets. Their language is today’s, with f-bombs every 20 seconds or so, and their manner is capricious and uncaring, as if the war were a minor annoyance. When in doubt, Otto asks himself, “What would Mr. Hitler do?” Did anyone call him Mr. Hitler, ever?


Not that they’re unaware of the surrounding conflict, or disengaged from it. Otto just killed a couple dozen of the enemy, including a teacher or Elodie’s, and is as proudly anti-Semitic as we’d expect of a Hitler youth: “There’s nothing cruel,” he philosophizes, “about choosing who lives and who dies.” But he doesn’t register a lot of emotion, except when learning of and raging over the recent Normandy invasion. As Otto, Schlesinger has two settings, banality-of-evil mild and Nazi furious, and he negotiates them less than nimbly. Elodie hates her mom and the church, is given to epileptic fits, and that’s about all we get to know about her. In short, this is not a young couple we’re rooting for. As Elodie, Carpanini has a somewhat more fluid range of emotion, and I’d like to see her take on, say, Emily in Our Town. But she doesn’t give Elodie a sympathetic soul, not that anyone necessarily could.

Meantime, Fiordellisi and Pendleton keep the vocals going. (At one point, the audience is asked to join in; I was too dispirited to.) She has a warm contralto, and his voice is down to a whisper, even closely clutching a mic. Fiordellisi is a winning presence, and we’ll take the great Austin Pendleton in anything, even this. But their purpose is never made clear, and when they ultimately climb through that upstage window to embrace the younger couple, your reaction is just, Huh?


There are good things: Stacey Derosier’s moody lighting, which ranges from electric blue to hot pink, and Christopher Darbassie’s sound design, which keeps the voices natural (though sometimes inaudible) while pounding out the plane and bomb noises. As for Jack Serio’s direction, let’s just say he keeps the action moving, though the running time, under an hour and a half, feels roughly twice that.


Elodie and Otto, you will not be surprised to hear, do not arrive at the beautiful future they’ve been dreaming of. We learn of their fates, as so often happens in today’s plays, by the actors loping down to the stage apron and reciting them, telling rather than showing. Those fates are grisly, though, in Carpanini and Schlesinger’s listless deliveries, they might as well be describing unloading the dishwasher or taking out the trash. We need to be reminded of the atrocities committed at this unhappy moment in history, and warned about the modern parallels that could bring them back. The pity is, in This Beautiful Future’s lackadaisical storytelling and the callous couple at the center of it, we don’t much care.


This Beautiful Future
Off-Broadway play
Playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St.
Playing through Oct. 30
Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes