Days and Nights: page 121, lines 11 and 12
nytheatre.com review by Larry Kunofsky
August 12, 2007
Way back when The Coast of Utopia was just a germ of an idea, Tom Stoppard spoke about his then work-in-progress on a TV talk show, explaining how the importance of Art changes when the stakes of life are raised. For those living under an oppressive regime, Stoppard posited, Art is a life-and-death issue; for those who live with all kinds of freedom, Art is taken for granted. This idea was constantly on my mind as I watched the Days and Nights: page 121, lines 11 and 12 unfold.
This play takes the characters and situations of The Diary of Anne Frank and imposes on them reordered and repeated snippets of dialogue from Chekhov's The Seagull.
It might sound like a gimmick or a mere intellectual exercise, but thinking of Stoppard's ideas about Art and how its values change helped to keep me engaged with this new production from Purple Man Theatre Company. More importantly, I was truly moved by it.
For Anne Frank and her family and friends in hiding from the Nazis, everything was a life-and-death issue, and yet the feelings of longing, love, lust, jealousy, petty bickering, games, parties, and ceremonies which pervade our ordinary, everyday lives remained part of the fabric of attic dwellers' far-from-ordinary existence. For the artists and aristocrats lounging their summers away in Chekhov's play, very little is at stake, and yet vanquished hopes, ennui, despair, and suicide darken their days. By meshing and inverting the situations and emotional states of these two plays—which are both universal but at seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum of human experience—writer/director Marc Stuart Weitz finds an ambitious, serious, and wholly other story to tell.
The story of this play is ultimately the story of how we live now. As with Anne Frank and with Chekhov's characters, we are living in a time of enormous, global, and potentially long-lasting change. Some of us, during this time, sink to pettiness, bitterness, selfishness, and rage. Many of us, though, are still trying to make sense of it all, still trying to live our lives every day in an attempt to find purpose and meaning. Perhaps this is the story of human history itself, but the personal specifics of this play's models, in connection with our current situation in history, make Days and Nights seem new and profound.
It's difficult to write about the cast of Days and Nights. They all seem like fine actors (especially Erin Grorski as Anne, Charlie Hensley as Mr. Frank, and Carrie Heitman as Mrs. Van Daan) and all of them would probably be riveting in an actual production of the dramatization of Anne Frank's life. However, the actors on stage are used herein as a vehicle for the writer/director's conceit. The staging is very stylized and the purposefully incongruous dialogue is delivered in a (seemingly) purposefully non-sequitur-like tone. This struck me as unfortunate, since Weitz's ideas are clear throughout, but the audience is somewhat deprived of the full force of the ensemble, whose talents appear to be considerable. I do maintain, however, that Days and Nights is no mere intellectual exercise. Although the writer/director's concept is the spine of this production, the play transcends its headiness and yields a very powerful effect upon your heart.