New York City Theater
East 13th Street Theater, Manhattan
The post-Holocaust literature keeps rolling along, the theme an endless source of inspiration and repetition. But this current drama at the East 13th St. Theater (otherwise known as CSC Rep when its own productions are on the boards) has a different twist. “The Milliner” focuses on German-born émigrés who long for their “homeland,” despite the abuses the Nazi regime had once visited upon them. In all likelihood, such émigrés do exist, providing the play with an area rarely explored in post-Holocaust drama.
In the title role is a German Jew who longs to return to Berlin. Wolfgang sees himself as a German, and not a Jew, an identity which he barely acknowledges. Nor does he appreciate the English haven given him during the war. In every way he views the German culture as superior—in style, music, language, cuisine, people.
Once a successful designer of women’s hats, a milliner, he attempts to rekindle past triumphs by visiting his former city. He leaves behind his artist wife Amalia and becomes embroiled with Claudia, a German cabaret singer. The play operates on two levels—the Milliner’s tangled relations with the two women, and the continuing current of anti-Semitism in post-war Berlin.
Playwright Suzanne Glass has created a memory piece, with Wolfgang (played strongly by Michel Gill) serving as both narrator and lead character. He is backed by a first-rate cast—Caralyn Kozlowski, Maria Cellario, Donna Davis, Julia Haubner, Glenn Kalison, and Steven Hauck. Under Mark Clements’ direction, every scene packs a wallop.
Clements is faced with the problem of offering the many short scenes in different locales on a thrust stage which limits maneuverability. He handles it with the props on stage at all times, spotlighting each scene. Lighting designer Jeff Nellis’ spots work well, particularly when they pick out the overhead arc of gorgeous hats (courtesy of designer Lynne Mackey). But the detritus from all the scenes, left on stage, proves distracting.
Yet, all told, “The Milliner” is a strong, provocative, well-performed play.
-- Irene Backalenick
Oct. 30, 2006