Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Watch on the Rhine
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Gin Game, Baby Screams Miracle, Caroline, or Change, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and her report on the Helen Hayes Awards Announces 2017 Nominees


Andrew Long and Lise Bruneau
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Lillian Hellman wrote Watch on the Rhine at a particular point in history, as the Nazis were overrunning Europe but the U.S. had not yet entered the war; the Broadway production premiered in April 1941, before Pearl Harbor. Current discussions of political dissent and other issues make Arena Stage's production remarkably timely, specifically a comment by one character that the United States does not refuse sanctuary to political refugees.

Director Jackie Maxwell has ably guided her cast, led by Marsha Mason and the exemplary Andrew Long, through a script that combines (sometimes a bit clumsily) elements of drawing-room comedy, melodrama, and wartime thriller. Mason is Fanny Farrelly, a Washington grande dame, and Long is Kurt Müller, her German-born son-in-law and an activist in the anti-fascist underground.

The story begins on a spring morning in 1940 as Fanny and her son David (Thomas Keegan), a lawyer, await the arrival of Kurt and his wife Sara (Lise Bruneau), whom they have not seen since their wedding 20 years earlier, with their three children. Fanny has also opened her elegant country home to Teck De Brancovis (J Anthony Crane), a Romanian count with little money, and his wife Marthe (Natalia Payne), a childhood friend of David's.

As played by Long, Kurt is a man whose integrity depends on his opposition to tyranny. He's not noble or seeking glory, he's grounded and does what he has to do, and his resolve radiates from every line he speaks. Bruneau stands proudly beside him, resolute and helping the cause as she can while protecting their children: idealistic Joshua (Ethan Miller), serious Babette (Lucy Breedlove), and precocious Bodo (Tyler Bowman, who gets to show off).

Mason's portrayal makes obvious how Fanny—a privileged woman who wants to control the lives of the people she loves—learns that some things in life just aren't that clear cut. Crane does his best with a role that Hellman has written as villainous from the beginning: Teck, the cultured but shallow European who dismisses his wife, sucks up to Nazi diplomats, and lives off other people.

Scenic designer Todd Rosenthal has created a tastefully furnished living room in the center of the Fichandler Stage, although the domed roof suggests his recent design for Carousel in the same space. Judith Bowden's costume designs range from the serviceable outfits of Kurt, Sara, and their children to Fanny's refined, slightly old-fashioned dresses.

Arena Stage
Watch on the Rhine
February 3rd - March 5th, 2017
By Lillian Hellman
Anise: Helen Hedman
Fanny Farrelly: Marsha Mason
Joseph: Addison Switzer
David Farrelly/Fight Captain: Thomas Keegan
Marthe De Brancovis: Natalia Payne
Teck De Brancovis: J Anthony Crane
Sara Müller: Lise Bruneau
Joshua Müller: Ethan Miller
Bodo Müller: Tyler Bowman
Babette Müller: Lucy Breedlove
Kurt Müller: Andrew Long
Babette Müller Understudy: Heidi Kaplan
Joshua Müller and Bodo Müller Understudy: Ethan Van Slyke
Directed by Jackie Maxwell
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St. SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


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