One house in Dresden becomes ground zero for a multigenerational exploration of guilt, complicity, survival, and truth in Marius von Mayenburg’s The Stone, which plays at Needham’s Arlekin Players Theatre through Sept 29.
The play is a complicated one, made even more difficult by the fact that that it jumps back and forth in time and unfolds in splinter-like segments, all of which seem to whiz past our heads like shrapnel from an explosion. Arlekin’s production—with the most thrilling design elements you’re likely to see all year—is directed with a ghoulish, avant-garde allure by Igor Golyak, the creativity of which is unrivaled by anything in recent memory.
In 1935, Wolfgang (David Gamarnik) and Witha (a drop-dead brilliant Darya Denisova) purchase the house from a Jewish couple that is about to flee Germany. (We only meet the wife, Mieze Schwarzmann, played with stone-cold intensity by Rimma Gluzma.) Believing that the Schwarzmanns still live there, members of the Hitler Youth attack the house, throwing a stone through the window.
In 1945, Dresden is being bombed, yet the house survives. As the Russians invade the city, Wolfgang commits suicide while his wife, Witha, survives with their daughter, Heidrun (an astonishing Viktoriya Kovalenko).
By 1953, Witha—now 43—decides to leave the house behind to escape to West Germany with her daughter. As Witha and Heidrun pack up to leave, Heidrun finds a stone that had been used in the attack on the house a decade earlier. When Heidrun presses her mother about her father’s role in all of this, Witha lies and says that he died trying to arrange for the escape of a Jewish family. Satisfied by thinking of her father as a hero, Heidrun buries the stone in the garden.
The house is thrown into a kind of flux by 1978, and it becomes communal property lived in by three different families. Witha—now 68—returns to the house with a pregnant Heidrun, now 38, and they meet Stefanie (Anna Kovalenko), a 15-year-old girl who now calls the house home. Remembering the stone from 25 years earlier, Heidrun digs it up and takes it with her.
Lurching forward to 1993, Witha—now 83—reclaims the house and moves back in with her daughter and granddaughter. But a figure from the past comes to disturb things, and with her arrival everything that Heidrun believed—and everything that Witha tried to move past—stands to be shattered.
Two “conductors,” as they are called in the program (played here by Jenya Brodskaia and Misha Tyutyunik), are imagined here as Warholian figures, complete with shocking white wigs and black turtlenecks. The play curiously opens with a bizarre scene in which the two Warhols eat a hamburger, a riff on a video Warhol actually made in 1982. As the action of the play proper unfolds, the Warhol figures seem to curate the look of each scene, sometimes by arranging prop pieces to their liking, and sometimes focusing a camera, which is then displayed on various TV sets around the theater. The reason for this isn’t clear, and the conductors don’t seem to be mentioned in the original script, but I’m not complaining: It just goes to underscore the absolute fearlessness of Golyak and the Arlekin Players, and I’m a sucker for high-concept productions.
David R. Gammons’ scenic design is thrilling, as are Nastya Bugaeva’s splattered white costumes, Jeff Adelberg’s lighting, Vladimir Gusev’s video designs, and Jakov Jakoulov’s indispensable score. In many ways, Arlekin has pulled off an incredible feat, presenting challenging, dramatically rich material in a way so staggeringly creative that you can’t help but take notice.
This isn’t something you want to miss.
THE STONE. THROUGH 9.29 AT ARLEKIN PLAYERS, 368 HILLSIDE AVE., NEEDHAM. ARLEKINPLAYERS.COM