SCENA Theatre continues to mount vital international works in its 26th year, kicking off the season with a stage adaptation of the 1979 film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, The Marriage of Maria Braun. This cult favorite from the New German Cinema movement is a cultural import worthy of SCENA’s brand, and it’s about time that Washington was introduced to its unforgettable heroine Maria Braun.
The Marriage of Maria Braun is a darker riff on Gone with the Wind, set in West Germany in the years during and after World War II. Maria learns to fend for herself during the war, and has no interest in giving up her independence in the peace. With spunk, determination, and a hearty dose of moral relativism, she rides the wave of post-war prosperity to a higher socio-economic niveau, but leaves her family in the dust, becoming “cold.”
It’s no simple feat to take an epic film that spans a decade of time and multifarious settings, and shrink it for the stage. But with Robert McNamara’s masterful direction and a no-frills set design by Michael Stepowany, The Marriage of Maria Braun flows from apartments rich and poor, to offices, trains, prisons, bars, and bedrooms. Pools of harsh, film-noir lighting (designed by Marianne Meadows) delineated the many environments, and projections by TW Starnes used photographs from post-war West Germany to enhance the utilitarian set.
While The Marriage of Maria Braun exhibits the compelling story and stylish, simple production elements we expect from SCENA, the acting is inconsistent. During the war, the family scenes were stiff and slow. The actors intoned the text—almost singing —like something on a book-on-tape, and I found myself unable to suspend my disbelief. Fortunately, the ensemble gained momentum as the play wore on.
In the scenes after the war ended, the dialogue began clipping along and the characterizations became less exaggerated. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that they didn’t have to be cold, hungry, and sad anymore. In the role of Maria, Nanna Ingvarsson carried the show with brains and backbone. Maria becomes increasingly calculating as the play wears on, and Ms. Ingvarsson had a remarkable way of revealing her thoughts to the audience while hiding them from the other characters. Ingvarsson gave us a dynamic character who wore many different faces in her relationships, yet I didn’t see the overall shift in her demeanor change as everyone began to call her “cold”. I’m not sure if she needed to be colder at the end, or warmer and more alluring at the beginning, or both, but in any case the contrast didn’t seem to justify the reactions it incurred.
The Marriage of Maria Braun
Closes October 11, 2013
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
1 hour, 40 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $35 – $40
Tuesdays thru Sundays
However, I think the greatest advantage of the stage adaptation of The Marriage of Maria Braun may be that the fleeting nature of a play makes seeing it a pressing matter. I had to wonder how many Maria Brauns were languishing on my ever-growing list of “films I’m supposed to watch,” many of which I know I never will. With The Marriage of Maria Braun, SCENA is taking a remarkable, complex, and important story and rescuing it from obscurity, saying “Watch this now.” The production may be a bit shaky, but the story is not— I recommend you heed their call.
The Marriage of Maria Braun . based on the film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder . Adapted by Peter Märthesheimer & Pea Fröhlich . Directed by Robert McNamara . Featuring Nanna Ingvarsson, Doug Krehbel, Emily Morrison, Regen Wilson, Theodore Snead, Karin Rosnizeck, Kim Curtis, Lee Ordeman, Armand Sindoni, and Colin Davies. Set design: Michael C. Stepowany . Costume design: Alisa Mandel . Lighting design: Marianne Meadows . Sound design: Denise R. Rose . Projections design: TW Starnes . Fight Director: Paul Gallagher . Dramaturg: Gabriele Jakobi . Stage manager: Kathryn Rother . Produced by SCENA Theatre . Reviewed by J. Robert Williams.