Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.


Also see Susan's review of Hellzapoppin

Andrew Long and Jeffries Thaiss
Espionage is never a cut-and-dried situation, all black and white, when human beings are involved in the process. That is the point Michael Frayn makes in his play Democracy, now receiving its Washington area premiere at the Olney Theatre Center in Olney, MD. Director Jim Petosa and a skilled cast have worked together to bring to life what might have been a forbidding tangle of alliances and political confusion.

The history behind the play is as follows: Willy Brandt (Andrew Long), a member of the West German Social Democratic Party and the charismatic mayor of West Berlin, became the nation's chancellor in 1969. As Brandt fought to balance the agendas of his numerous advisors and ambitious party members, he came to rely on Günter Guillaume (Jeffries Thaiss), his closest aide —and, unbeknownst to Brandt, a spy for the East German secret police, the Stasi. In 1974, after Guillaume was arrested, Brandt was forced to resign from office.

While the outlines of the story might suggest a schematic struggle between the two sides, Frayn's point is to show the effect of human connections on even the most doctrinaire followers of a national ideology. As Guillaume tells his Stasi handler (James Slaughter), "How can you see into someone's heart if you don't fall a little in love with him?"

Frayn presents the story through Guillaume's reports to his supervisor, and Thaiss admirably shows the many sides of the man: duplicitous, yes, but also devoted to his wife (another spy) and their son, and a man whose initial deception leads to a genuine friendship and protectiveness toward Brandt. Long is a good match, as his Brandt periodically lays down his public face and reveals the stresses that have accompanied him to this point in his career.

While the entire cast works smoothly together as an ensemble, a few members deserve special mention, such as Hugh Nees as a rather bilious bureaucrat whom no one likes but all are forced to respect; Clinton Brandhagen, a young man who doesn't want to wait too long before getting his shot at power; and Nick DePinto as Brandt's bodyguard and all-around servant.

Scenic designer James Kronzer adds another dimension to the drama with his three-dimensional set. The idea of "shifting perspective" becomes concrete as the audience glimpses Brandt through the windows of the government building, or with the depiction of a series of descending staircases suggesting the dizzying images created by artist M.C. Escher.

Olney Theatre Center
July 18th —August 12th
By Michael Frayn Günter Guillaume: Jeffries Thaiss
Arno Kretschmann: James Slaughter
Willy Brandt: Andrew Long
Horst Ehmke: Richard Pilcher
Reinhard Wilke: Eric Messner
Ulrich Bauhaus: Nick DePinto
Herbert Werner: Hugh Nees
Helmut Schmidt: Vincent Clark
Hans-Dietrich Genscher: Clinton Brandhagen
Günther Nollau: James Konicek
Directed by Jim Petosa
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or

Photo: Stan Barouh

-- Susan Berlin

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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