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Democracy
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Democracy

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Boyett Ostar Productions, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Jean Doumanian, Stephanie P. McClelland, Arielle Tepper, Amy Nederlander, Eric Falkenstein, Roy Furman
Present

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s
Democracy

by Michael Frayn

Starring: James Naughton, Richard Thomas
Robert Prosky, Michael Cumpsty
Terry Beaver, John Dossett, Julian Gamble,
John Christopher Jones, Richard Masur, Lee Wilkof

at
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street
NY, NY
212.307.4100

Director: Michael Blakemore
Set Design: Peter J. Davison
Costume Design: Sue Willmington
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson
Sound Design: Neil Alexander
Production Stage Manager: David Hyslop
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Marketing: HHC Marketing
General Manager: 101 Productions, Ltd.
Technical Supervisor: David Benken
Casting Director: Jim Carnahan, CSA

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 2, 2004

At first, I wondered if I knew enough (hardly any details) about the Social Democratic Party and East German intelligence, in the late 1960’s German political scene. How would I understand a play about Chancellor Willy Brandt and the spy Günter Guillaume? The success of Democracy, brought to Broadway fresh from the London stage production by The National Theatre of Great Britain, is that it is quite accessible and quite riveting. James Naughton (Chicago, City of Angels) as Willy Brandt and Richard Thomas (The Front Page, The Waltons) as his shadow, Günter Guillaume, are a united tour de force on this split-level stage with split lighting and split personalities.

It is just this multi-leveled effect, both literally, logistically, socially, politically, emotionally, and psychologically, that is so unique to Michael Frayn’s (Copenhagen) new historical drama. When I saw Copenhagen some years ago, I found it less than mesmerizing and remember wishing it had been performed on a proscenium stage or theatre in the round. I had that same wish early on tonight, but after a post-intermission permitted move to a box seat (resulting from a noisy rear audience), closer to the stage, I was totally drawn in. There is a multitude of conversation, all Americanized (no accents here) for easy comprehension. The plot begins to unfold in globally familiar ways, e.g., a political leader who forces new ideas with no plan for funding and a political leader who drinks and womanizes incessantly, allowing lists upon lists of paramours into his confidences and confines.

James Naughton spends much time seated, overlooking a precipice, or looking into space (sometimes his office window, sometimes a train window, sometimes his past environs), but at every moment that this actor/self-destructing leader is onstage at the Brooks Atkinson (and onstage in German cities, in his reveries of multiple past lives, and in his country estate) the audience is rewarded with a giant gift. That is the gift of going beyond one’s present world and into a past world with intellectual challenge that warms the mind. That gift is also the direct result of Richard Thomas’ brilliant caricature of the spy, Günter Guillaume, who walks like a servant left stage, while slyly telling the story to his East German boss, Arno Kretschmann (Michael Cumpsty), also perfectly cast, who is seated right stage, firmly fixated on the political news of Social Democrats. Humor and friendly camaraderie make this material so magnetic and momentous.

There are no women in this play, only ten white men in suits. Perhaps this is an unintended metaphor for the political incorrectness of Brandt’s and Guillaume’s chatter about women as sex objects and meaningless entertainment and distraction. Or, perhaps this casting is just intended to typify Post-War German politics. Regardless, there is just so much satisfaction on so many levels, that Democracy is worth seeing twice. Once to grasp the history and the roles of the ten characters and their ever-changing schemes. And, once to enjoy the work from a visual perspective, the multi-leveled set, with neatly colored files on shelves and upscale suits and choreographed walks and body language that tell so much about inner turmoil and cracking confidence.

The supporting cast is superb, with an ensemble of trusted, not so trusted, and back-stabbing politicos, who appear to be loyal, disloyal, and conflicted, all at once. Again, this is a mind-enhancing, rather than mood-enhancing production, and Michael Frayn is to be congratulated for such a daring deliverance of sophistication, wit, and social politics. Michael Blakemore has brought out the best in his seasoned cast. Mark Henderson’s lighting is lightning-quick, as light announces the point of the stage and thus the point of view. Peter J. Davison’s multi-layered sets, that have their own final and symbolic surprise, are well conceived and conducive to the strength of verbal and body language of ten suited men.

You must see Democracy at least once, or you will miss a monumental masterpiece. Kudos to Michael Frayn, Michael Blakemore, James Naughton, Richard Thomas, Michael Cumpsty, and the entire theatrical and production staff.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net