Off-Broadway theatre review
By Michael Reubens
New and talented playwrights burst onto the worldwide theatre community from time to time and James Wallert is a prime example.
Wallert has chronicled this thought-provoking documentary form of live theatre The Winning Side at the Acorn Theatre into a work of art.
By laying out fundamentally asked questions and delving into historical facts, Wallert has researched the life and fast times of Werner von Braun, a Chief Rocket Engineer of Hitler’s Third Reich empire (1912-1977), the cloak and dagger movements associated with foreign governments, including the US., his clandestine love affairs and suspicious activities.
Several questions and concerns are raised during the course of Wallert’s fact-finding analogy of events played by four actors – one of which plays several characters.
Wallert is not only Co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Manhattan based Epic Theatre Ensemble but an accomplished actor.
This play goes back and forth from 1943 Paris to 1969 USA and Germany, which at times can result in a distraction and annoyance from a somewhat disconcerting plot requiring audience members not to unduly be confused with the on-stage morass that is unfolding.
von Braun (Sullivan Jones) is in Nazi occupied Paris. As the play unfolds he invites himself into the dressing room of a cabaret theatre performer where he succeeds through sheer perseverance, a liaison with this chanteuse, Margot Moreau (Melissa Friedman), fraught from the get-go. It was after all, dangerous times for the enemy to fraternize with the populace for fear of being perceived as a collaborator.
History is on stage with Germany invading Poland in 1939, to Japan attacking Pearl Harbor, 1941, to the 24 year old von Braun being named as Technical Director of the Army Rocket Center in Germany, 1936, to the Apollo 11 mission, 1969 and becoming a US citizen in 1955.
The Winning Side title of the piece is subjective in its meaning and complex in its esotericism. It is a moral piece and has art imitating life and vice versa. It references the building of the B2 Bomber, the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal and bizarre relationships.
Director Ron Russell has three Black actors in Male leads and a white actress as the romantic lead, which, in this politically-incorrect day and age proves that casting is indeed color blind in it purest art form. Hamilton is a prime example of this mix!
Observing the on-again off-again tempestuous relationship between van Braun and Moreau is both compelling and well acted by Jones and Friedman with dialogue being spoken in French between them, although Jones’ German accent is more South African or Scandinavian that German.
Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr plays Major Taggert and Devin E. Haqq completes the cast with his assortment of ensemble characters ranging from LBJ to JFK. Limited season.
Epic Theatre Ensemble
Tell 1-212 239-1770
410 West 42nd Street
New York , NY 10036