KPBS AIRDATE: April 23, 1992
There’s irony in the air. Consider the life and the work of Austrian playwright Odön von Horváth. An important and popular dramatist in the Weimar era, his plays were banned by the Nazis and were virtually buried for forty years. This B-Attitudes production marks the American professional premiere of “Faith, Hope and Charity,” a play which was set to open in Berlin , 1933, but its author was exiled just before the opening.
Just one week before this premiere production went up, “Faith, Hope and Charity” opened elsewhere in San Diego , at USD. And one more historical note, to cap off the ironies: In 1938, at the age of 37, Horváth was coming out of a movie theater in Paris , having seen “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” He was killed in a freak accident, struck in the head by a falling tree branch during an electric storm, just a few hours before he was to leave France and take refuge in Switzerland .
Now all that, I think, provides the perfect backdrop for “Faith, Hope and Charity,” which is subtitled “A Little Dance of Death in Five Acts.” It’s an 80-minute evening of tragic-comedy, telling the story of a girdle salesgirl gone astray in a haywire world. In a ferociously ironic style, and in an eerily prophetic way, Horváth describes a depressed economy, a repressed bureaucracy and an oppressed populace. He used sentimental kitsch — both verbal and cultural clichés — to expose the deterioration of language, the corruption of cultural values and the crippling emotional effects of exploitation in a disintegrating society.
The crisp translation is by Christopher Hampton, who did such a poetic job with “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” Every line has an uncomfortably easy fit with today. We see the homeless and the unemployed, the downtrodden being taken advantage of by the police. The endless struggles of women. The indifference of the government… The loudly slamming doors.
Everything has multiple meanings here. It’s all highly stylized, under Maria Mileaf’s confident direction, in an Expressionist, presentational style complemented by Candice Becker’s creatively ritualistic choreography. Occasionally, things teeter toward the overwrought, but only rarely. There’s terrific technical backup from a dynamic design team that helps comprise B-Attitude’s “producing collective.” And the acting is very solid.
In our current icy financial and artistic climate, it’s refreshing to see a brand new company mount a new production. Confrontational, political, chance-taking. It couldn’t happen at a better time. This production may not be everybody’s dram of schnapps, but it’s an exciting effort from a lot of local young talent — mostly UCSD graduates — who are trying, as they put it, “to reach out to and develop the curious and supportive audience base here.” More power to them.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1992 Patté Productions Inc.