Saturday, February 17, 2018

REVIEW: Haven Theatre's Brutal Brechtian Wake Up Call at The Den Theatre Through March 11th, 2018

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Haven Theatre Presents
By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Eric Bentley

Directed by Artistic Director Josh Sobel

(left to right) Simon Hedger and Joe Bianco 
 All Photos by Emily Schwartz.

Running time: 2:45, including intermission.

A bit over a half century ago, German politics looked eerily like American politics circa 2018. A struggling working class thought Hitler would make their country great again and they went down a rabbit hole of rabid nationalism, racism, jackboot domestic terrorism, and war that shocked the world. Thankfully we have historians, poets and playwrights who documented the atrocities so there's hope that we can fight Fascism and won't be doomed to repeat history.

(front, l to r) Niko Kourtis, Elizabeth Dowling and Alexis Randolph in Haven Theatre’s production of FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH. 

I enjoyed Haven's austere, authoritarian staging of Bertolt Brecht's FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH, with a raised stage wending around sunken pits of audience members. Hard benches with thin pads line the walls in a modified theatre in the round configuration, for additional audience seating. Do note, the seating is as uncomfortable as the subject matter. After the nearly 3 hour run time, an older gentleman next to me, stood painfully and was heard to grumble, "Fear & Misery of my ass...". I spent intermission padding my seat with my coat and fleece. If a lack of cushy seating isn't a deal breaker, this production is well worth a look.

(left to right) Alys Dickerson and Alexis Randolph in Haven Theatre’s production of FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

(front, l to r) Alexis Randolph, Jessica Dean Turner, Alys Dickerson and Kyla Norton with (back) Simon Hedger

(left to right) Jessica Dean Turner and Kyla Norton

In a series of Brechtian scenes featuring everyday Germans from the wealthy elite, to Jews on work crews and in concentration camps, this play is a jolting reminder of the damage fear and racism can wreak on a country. The complacent are complicit. And even the formerly superior can quickly tumble when the rules change, as a wealthy Jewish wife realizes, as she flees the country for her life. The locations and timeline on the far wall are as helpful as they are haunting, in hindsight. 

In light of our current problem with rising Fascist groups, immigrant ICE deportation forces and detention centers, race based violence, and economic struggles, this play is too timely and a welcome wakeup call. Ready to turn enlightenment into action? Pick up a flier at the show close, for concrete actions you can take and great resources to RESIST FASCISM. FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH is recommended and running through 3/11/18.

Regular run: Thursday, February 15 – Sunday, March 11, 2018
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm

Tickets: $18 are currently available at

Haven Theatre is pleased to continue its 2017-18 Season with Bertolt Brecht’s unsettling and unflinching drama FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH, translated by Eric Bentley and directed by Artistic Director Josh Sobel, playing February 8 – March 11, 2018 at The Den Theatre's Janet Bookspan Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently availale at

As Germany careens toward war, an entire society begins to crack, and the seeds of chaos and tragedy take root in the minds of its citizens. Josh Sobel (We're Gonna Die) helms an ensemble-driven production of Brecht's 1938 classic with a contemporary eye – a warning of how insidiously a culture can make space for atrocity, and a call to never allow it to happen again.

(front) Alexis Randolph with (back, l to r) Amanda De La Guardia, Kyla Norton and Elizabeth Dowling

FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH features Joe Bianco, Amanda De La Guardia, Alys Dickerson, Elizabeth Dowling, Simon Hedger, Niko Kourtis, Kyla Norton, Siddhartha Rajan, Alexis Randolph and Jessica Dean Turner.

Man - Kyla Norton
Woman - Alexis Randolph

SA Man - Siddartha Rajan
Worker - Jessica Dean Turner
Parlor Maid - Alys Dickerson
Cook - Kyla Norton
Chauffer - Amanda De La Guardia

Social Democrat - Elizabeth Dowling
Communist - Alexis Randolph
Non-Political Man - Niko Kourtis
Pastor - Jessica Dean Turner
SS Guard - Joe Bianco

Announcer - Joe Bianco
Old Worker - Siddartha Rajan
Woman Worker - Elizabeth Dowling
Worker - Amanda De La Guardia
SA Man - Simon Hedger

Woman - Alys Dickerson
Worker - Jessica Dean Turner
Young Wife - Alexis Randolph
Child - Kyla Norton
SA Man - Simon Hedger

X - Elizabeth Dowling
Y - Kyla Norton
Listeners - Alexis Randolph, Amanda De La Guardia, Niko Kourtis, Jessica Dean Turner

Wife - Alys Dickerson
Husband - Joe Bianco

Judge A - Amanda De La Guardia
Inspector - Simon Hedger
Prosecutor - Siddartha Rajan
Attendant - Alys Dickerson
Maid - Alexis Randolph
Judge B - Niko Kourtis

Wife - Alexis Randolph
Husband - Niko Kourtis
Boy - Joe Bianco
Maid - Elizabeth Dowling

Man - Kyla Norton
Wife - Jessica Dean Turner
Released Man - Siddartha Rajan

Dairy Woman - Elizabeth Dowling
First Woman - Alys Dickerson
Second Woman - Amanda De La Guardia
Tradesman - Simon Hedger
Young Fellow - Joe Bianco
Butcher's Wife - Alexis Randolph

1st Baker - Jessica Dean Turner
2nd Baker - Niko Kourtis

Mother - Alexis Randolph
Daughter - Alys Dickerson

Farmer - Simon Hedger
Farmer's Wife - Elizabeth Dowling

Old Woman - Amanda De La Guardia
Young Woman - Kyla Norton
1st SA Man - Siddartha Rajan
2nd SA Man - Joe Bianco

Dying Man - Simon Hedger
Wife - Amanda De La Guardia
Son - Niko Kourtis
Pastor - Siddartha Rajan
Buriers - Kyla Norton, Joe Bianco, Jessica Dean Turner, Alexis Randolph, Elizabeth Dowling, Alys Dickerson

Woman - Jessica Dean Turner
and Ensemble

Woman - Kyla Norton
Younger Worker - Jessica Dean Turner
Older Worker - Elizabeth Dowling 

(front, l to r) Alys Dickerson and Siddhartha Rajan with (back) Amanda De La Guardia 

Comments Artistic Director Josh Sobel, "As the world finds itself in the midst of its next great cultural shift, Brecht's examination of the common citizen and how a society can be led to accept the inhumane feels strikingly immediate. Brecht wrote this play reflecting and pulling back the curtain on the news of the day as it was happening around him, providing an unnerving and – in our current moment – all too important call to confront injustice as it happens and to firmly and proudly say: No. With this production we seek to serve one of Haven's core values – the Future – through an intimate and personal look at our past and how such fatal mistakes were allowed to take place."

(front right) Simon Hedger with (back, l to r) Joe Bianco, Amanda De La Guardia and Alys Dickerson

The production team for FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH includes Yu Shibagaki (scenic design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Claire Chrzan (lighting design), Sarah D. Espinoza (sound design), Jeffrey Levin (original music), Sasha Smith (movement design), Abhi Shrestha (dramaturg, associate movement director), Angela Salinas (production manager), Madisen Dempsey (assistant director), Anna Sung-En Medill (assistant director) and Corbin Paulino (stage manager).

Artist Biographies
Bertolt Brecht (Playwright) 1898-1956, playwright, poet and director, was born in Augsburg, Germany in February 1898. He established himself as a playwright during the 1920s and early 1930s with plays such as Baal, Man is Man, The Threepenny Opera and The Mother. In 1933, as Hitler came to power in Germany, Mr. Brecht fled to Scandinavia before eventually settling in the USA where he remained until 1947. During the war years, he wrote many of his best-known plays, including The Life of Galileo, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Mother Courage and Her Children and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. He returned to Europe in 1947 and shortly after his arrival formed the Berliner Ensemble. He died in Berlin on August 14, 1956 but remains a hugely influential theatre practitioner.

Eric Bentley (Translator) was born in England in 1916, became an American citizen in 1948, in 1998 was inducted into the (American) Theatre Hall of Fame, and in 2011 won a gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Scholar, critic, teacher, performer, translator and, finally, playwright, he has had many books published and many plays and adaptations performed, the latter feature making him a star of the Samuel French catalogue. Several of his critical works have become classics, notably The Playwright as Thinker, Thinking about the Playwright and The Life of the Drama. Today, nine of his plays are published by Northwestern University Press in three volumes entitled Rallying Cries, Monstrous Martyrdoms and The Kleist Variations. Four more Bentley titles have recently been published by Broadway Play Publishing Inc: Round One, Round Two, A Time to Die and A Time to Live and The Sternheim Trilogy.

Josh Sobel (Director) is a Chicago-based director and Artistic Director of Haven Theatre Company. Recent credits include We're Gonna Die at Haven, Bobbie Clearly at Steep (Jeff Award winner, Best New Work), The Long Christmas Ride Home and Hunting of the Snark (also Edinburgh Fringe) at Strawdog, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead at Metropolis and The Importance of Being Earnest featuring Lisa Tejero at Iowa Summer Rep, University of Iowa. Additional credits include work at Chicago Dramatists, Red Orchid, Victory Gardens, Sketchbook, The Ruckus, Greenhouse Theater Center, Abbie-Fest and New Leaf. From 2010-2013 Josh served as Associate Director of the National Theater Institute summer "Theatermakers" program at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Recipient, Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC) Observership, Hamlet at Writers' Theatre. Associate member, SDC. 

About Haven Theatre:

We exist to be a Haven for The Future. We achieve this through championing the next generation of playwrights, directors and actors by producing and promoting plays and performances that are staking their claim as the immediate future of this art form, and by investing in those at the very beginning of their professional journeys. Through this inspiration, we seek to ignite in each audience member a hope for the Future - the Future of theatre and performance, the Future of each other, the Future of our community.

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