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Sotto Voce

a Drama
by Nilo Cruz

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Discovery Point Studio [WEBSITE]
ID# 4886

SHOWING : April 15, 2016 - May 08, 2016



From Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz ("Anna in the Tropics"), comes a story of the resiliency of true love and the enduring power of memories. German-born novelist Bemadette Kahn lost the love of her life during World War II when he fled Nazi Germany on the S. S. St. Louis, a ship carrying 937 Jewish refugees seeking haven in North America. Both Cuba and the U.S. turned the ship away, leaving many of the passengers to return to Europe and perish in Nazi Concentration Camps. Bemadette’s past resurfaces when a young Jewish-Cuban writer contacts her to research the ship’s tragic voyage. As their relationship deepens, they are enveloped by a transcendent romance based on her memories of her great lost love.

Director Justin Anderson
Costume Designer Jordan Jaked Carrier
Scenic Designer Trevor Carrier
Lucila Pulpo/Nina Strauss Denise Arribas
Bemadette Kahn Marianne Fraulo
Saquiel Rafael/Ariel Strauss Louis Gregory
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by playgoer
Saturday, April 23, 2016
Nilo Cruz’s "Sotto Voce" is not an action-packed play. The two main characters communicate solely through phone calls and computer messages. Director Justin Anderson attempts to alleviate the static nature of the story by frequent shifts in blocking, as Ben Rawson’s lighting design spotlights various specific areas of the stage that vary from scene to scene. Still, he can’t disguise the fact that the communication of Bemadette Kahn (Marianne Fraulo), a German-born writer, is pretty formal and literary, giving a dry, cerebral veneer to a story that keeps its emotions very tightly held, close to the chest.

Trevor Carrier’s set makes good use of the black box space, placing a half-circle, flat stage in front of a raked platform that extends to the back wall. Bookcases flank all three doorways in the set, with artistically arranged objects on the shelves (although with mighty few books for an author). The floor is a good-looking light wood, with diagonal cut-out vents on the raked portion through which light can show. The only furniture is a sleek desk with chair and two stools. It’s extremely functional.

The back wall contains a large rectangular projection screen that shows a somewhat pixelated, impressionistic New York skyline before the show begins. During the show, projections often cover the whole back wall, with the projection screen sometimes showing a different image. It doesn’t work particularly well at doing anything other than providing visual variety for a statically-conceived play. The screen is particularly ineffective when its blank whiteness stands in for a curtained window, when shortly thereafter a projection of a curtained window appears on the screen.

The actors attempt to make sense of the script, but can’t make it convincing. Louis Gregory, with impeccable Cuban and German accents, plays a young man who has creepy stalker tendencies, while Denise Arribas, comic timing as sharp as ever, plays a woman attracted to him in an equally creepy way. Marianne Fraulo, ostensibly playing a German-born woman, uses an undefinable accent that sounded German to me in only one isolated speech. Her cool demeanor may be appropriate for an agoraphobic woman, but the only heat she registers seems to be intellectual, casting a shadow over the human story that should be at the center of the production.

The story concerns the plight of Jews on the St. Louis, a WWII-era ship that was denied entry to Cuba or the U.S., returning most of its passengers to Europe and death in Nazi concentration camps. Late in the play, a parallel is drawn to Hispanics who are not allowed into the U.S. due to visa violations. That parallel cheapens the tragedy of the St. Louis, and the play seems to fall apart as much as come to an end.

Mr. Anderson has directed a highly professional production, with Jordan Jaked Carrier’s costume design and all other technical elements giving the show a professional sheen. None of that, however, can disguise the limitations of the script. Bemadette refers to Saquiel as being "sotto voce," when in actuality he’s pretty vocal and persistent; she’s the quiet one. Or perhaps she’s referring to her lover Ariel Strauss, a passenger on the St. Louis, with whom Saquiel becomes conflated in her memory. In any case, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but supplies the play with an ostensibly evocative title. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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