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Far and Wide

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Jonathan Bank, in his director's notes for Far and Wide, writes, "Adaptation is a tricky term," and he couldn't be closer to the truth. He should have given himself a bit more credit, though, as he makes it look easy. Of course, the result of his research and toil is far from a direct translation of Arthur Schnitzler's 1911 Das weite Land, but instead an adaptation of a translation of that play, resulting in a work containing at least as much Bank as Schnitzler.

But that should certainly be no deterrent, as whatever the specifics of the authorship may be, Far and Wide is a thoughtful, engaging, and polished production. As such, there can be no question why Bank's Mint Theater Company saw fit to bring the show, which premiered on their stage earlier this year, back for a second engagement; it's the definition of the Mint's mission, not simply reviving old plays as much as proposing them as new theatre in and of themselves. Isn't that what revivals should really be about?

Aside from the language which, Bank admits, he "revised to suit [his] own contemporary ear," Far and Wide is as timeless as anyone could hope, dealing with the most basic of human drives, from love and sex to ambition and death, and nearly everything in between. Bank's production doesn't fully capture the epic nature of his subject matter; the title refers to the expansiveness of the soul, and, contained in the tiny Theatre Three, with small-scale, confining scenic design by Vicki R. Davis, the greater scope of the play is often lost. However, Davis's reduction of the set to a suggestive tennis court enclosed by a chain-link fence, has its moments of success, as the characters' relationships are handled much like a tennis match - A seemingly infinite series of volleys, hits, misses, and even strikes with the ball are on order here.

The primary players are Friedrich Hofreiter (Hans Tester) and his wife Genia (Lisa Bostnar), each categorically unfaithful to the other, he with his neighbor Adele (Pilar Witherspoon) and she with a young marine Otto (Joshua Decker), though they're both enjoined in a web of intrigue surrounding the mysterious death of a young piano player. A host of other characters - including Otto's mother Anna (Lee Bryant), Friedrich's longtime young admirer Erna (Kate Arrington), Erna's mother (Anne-Marie Cusson), Adele's husband (Allen Lewis Rickman), and the amorous physician Franz Mauer (Ezra Barnes) - fit into this game in subtly changing ways, often pausing for a dalliance of their own or to reflect a bit of insight onto the central story.

Schnitzler's message is clear, though - no one exists in a vacuum, each of the characters' emotions and very lives tied up with the others', and the performers are mostly fine in communicating this. (They have to be given the necessity of sustaining interest and believability in the escalating downward spiral of interpersonal complications the characters must deal with.) The star, in the truest sense of the word, is Bostnar, presenting a fully colored and masterfully defined portrait of Genia as a woman at a very difficult crossroads; she spans the vistas of Genia's soul with a vibrant alacrity unmatched by any of the other performers. They're all fine, though, particularly Bryant, thoroughly warm and inviting as Anna, and Arrington, bringing a sensual life to her young character. Tester's performance is also fine, but of a different, often more presentational style that heightens the disconnect between him and the others with surprising effectiveness.

Theresa Squire's elegant costumes and Josh Bradford's intricate lighting complete the picture of this difficult play, though it's Bank, as director, who deserves the most credit for bringing the pieces together. Far and Wide, if by nature a reduced Das weite Land, is still a major undertaking and if Bank doesn't comb the breadth of the material as fully as one might wish, his work remains impressive and invigorating as a tribute to the resourcefulness and resiliency of his own fine theatre company, but the human animal he and Schnitzler seem to intimately understand.

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Mint Theater Company
Far and Wide (Das weite Land)
Through October 26
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes with one intermission
Theatre Three, third floor, Mint Theater Company, 311 West 43rd Street
Schedule and Tickets: 212.315.0231