Tony Kushner’s 1985 play A Bright Room Called Day—currently being produced in Hillman City by the Williams Project—unfolds as a series of conversations between leftist artists in an apartment in 1932–1933 Berlin. They talk about communism, sex, the rise of the Third Reich.
Lest you’re unable to suss out parallels between our present political climate and that of the past, there’s a slideshow presented by a Reagan-era character, Zillah Katz. She intermittently interrupts the action to give you lessons on history and to launch into rants about society’s problems with diagnosing evil—or to count the letters in each part of Ronald Wilson Reagan’s name (6-6-6, as it were). This is part of Kushner’s original. But instead of letting this be a historical document itself, this production jumps in on the updates, even including a photo of Donald Trump shaking hands with Reagan.
The Williams Project is a talented company—its take on Lorca’s Blood Wedding in August remains my favorite theater event this year—and the actors here are game and able, a pleasure to hear running through Kushner’s language. The setting, in the brick-walled Hillman City Collaboratory, is ideally intimate, like a friend’s home. And later in the run the company will include conversations with nonprofit representatives after the performances to incite action.
But on opening night, by the time the cast starts appearing in hoodies and backpacks instead of anything resembling 1930s German garb, the grab for relevance has gone from heavy-handed to overbearing. What would make a timely and complex subtext is so annotated, highlighted, underlined, dogeared that you can’t anymore experience the story itself.
A Bright Room Called Day
Oct 25–Nov 18, Hillman City Collaboratory, Free–$50