nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 17, 2006
Summer festivals are all about new theatre artists putting their voices out there, so that we can discover what they have to say and how they're choosing to say it. Das Brat, my first MITF show this year, introduces us to a pair of appealing and talented young artists—playwright/director Eric Bland, and actor Scott Eckert, who plays the main character in this quirky, melancholy drama, a lost soul named Jarrod.
The play progresses in non-linear fashion, lurching through time and alternating between two realities, the one inside Jarrod's head and the objectively actual one around him. The facts about Jarrod seem to be these: that he was in love with a girl named Ekaterina and together they had a child; that Jarrod abandoned both mother and child and ran off to Europe; that he's returned to New York and Ekaterina wants him back, or at least she wants his money, to help care for their daughter, who she says is living in Lithuania. Ekaterina's sister Hazel enters the story about a third of the way through, at first disliking Jarrod but later seeming to care for him (and he for her). Ekaterina meanwhile finds another, presumably more stable, partner, Kevin, about whom we know almost nothing.
The plot matters because of what it does to Jarrod—he clearly feels tremendous guilt for running away from his responsibilities but at the same time remains unable to live up to them in the way he knows he's expected to. His inertia is emotional and physical: he has no apparent means of support at the moment (says he's crashing on someone's floor) and consequently no money to give Ekaterina.
But more urgent than Bland's storyline are the moods and feelings it manages to convey. The writing has an academic, poetic flair; it seems remote and detached and, at the same time, very specific in conjuring Jarrod's various states of mind. Das Brat is more about what's going on inside Jarrod's troubled consciousness than in his real life, I think; certainly it's most engaging sections are the ones where Jarrod confides to us about his blissful time in Berlin, at the Alexanderplatz, where he spent hours watching two bratwurst vendors and the passing parade of customers and passersby. "...[O]ver a sense of humor, or honor, or duty, or generosity, or chivalry, or love... I'll take commerce," he declares. Can he succeed in making a meaningful life from that?
Bland's writing is expressive, but Das Brat doesn't quite add up to as much as it intends. One of the difficulties is the very constricted performing space at Where Eagles Dare, and another is Bland's staging, which just doesn't convey all the complexities that it needs to (a script was provided to me, and as I read through it, I discovered that a lot of its ideas haven't been realized fully in this production). But Bland is certainly a writer to keep an eye on.
And his leading man, Scott Eckert, is a talented young actor who embodies all the sad and tender contradictions of his character with real panache; he lets us into Jarrod's heart and soul with real intensity, making Das Brat a genuinely compelling bit of theatre.