September 25, 2008

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Curtain calls
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

The scenes in Ronald Harwood’s Taking Sides are all set in the same office, but the story takes the audience outside its confines and into the debates that were had as people tried to piece their lives back together after World War II.

Yellow Taxi Productions is not a stranger to history-based plays, and Taking Sides uses a situation ripe for drama, while giving voice to larger issues such as the point of art and culture itself. YTP veteran David White plays Wilhelm Furtwangler, principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. The part allowed White plenty to delve into as he sits through interrogations as to whether the conductor was a Nazi collaborator by an American officer in 1946. Furtwangler was considered one of the best conductors in the world at the time, as we learn, so it’s hard to watch White have to obey the spiteful, base commands of Major Steve Arnold. I wanted White’s character to be more defiant and haughty to a character who referred to him as a band leader and ignored evidence that Furtwangler was against the Nazi regime. At the same time, the conductor didn’t have much choice other than to go along.

Furtwangler’s crime was not leaving Germany when he had the chance. Arnold, played by Doug Chilson, refuses to accept Furtwangler’s explanation. The conductor didn’t expect the dark days of Hitler to last forever, and wanted to preserve his nation’s musical tradition in the meantime. White portrays the conductor’s anguish and anger well.

The supporting cast was excellent. Arthur Barlas plays second violinist Helmuth Rode. He’s great as a character actor, weaving tales in front of Arnold, and is particularly compelling in something of a Judas scene. Katie Rolph looked like she could have been plucked from a BBC series set in the 1940s as Arnold’s German secretary, Emmie. YTP made a perfect choice with Rolph as well as with John Decareau, who looked, walked and talked like a stone-faced young military officer as David Wills, sent as a liaison to work with Arnold. His character softened as the show went on, while still conducting himself like a soldier. The German-born Jewish American asks Arnold to be more respectful to Furtwangler. (If this were a fictional wartime romance, I’m sure Wills and Emmie would run off together.) Andrea DeFeo pulled the audience into her character’s madness and earnestness as Tamara Sachs and acted as a conscience in the play when she told Arnold not to behave “like them.” The use of “they” and “them” has significance throughout.

Arnold insists on calling everyone by their first name, rather than using rank or title, in some cases to demean them. It also could be his way of trying to put everyone on an equal level. Chilson has been in four out of seven of the Yellow Taxi plays I’ve seen.

There’s a lot more to ponder in Taking Sides, like post traumatic stress disorder, hypocrisy, the value of striving to achieve in an art form, and the value of human life, and the value of one person’s contributions and talents. But I’ll leave you to watch it since it is, after all, about taking sides.

Taking Sides, directed by Josiah George, closes with shows Thursday, Sept. 25, and Friday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 27, at 4 and 8 p.m. at the Hunt Building at 6 Main St. in Nashua. Ticket costs range from $15 to $25. Buy tickets at Theatermania.com. For more information, call 791-4558 or see www.yellowtaxiproductions.org. —Heidi Mase


Actors: Katie Rolph as Emmi, David White as Wilhelm Furtwangler and Doug Chilson as Major Steve Arnold in Taking Sides. Brian Lawrence photo.

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